English 760 -- English Renaissance Literature: 16th Century Writing

Fall 2005

Tuesdays 4:30 - 6:50 p.m.

Meier Hall 106


Prof. Jeffrey Theis

Office Hours: MWF 12:00-1:15 p.m.; and by appointment (I generally should be available before our class meets–let me know if you’d like to meet then).

Office: Library 311

Phone Extension: 6845

E-mail: jeffrey.theis@salemstate.edu


Required Texts:

             Thomas More, Utopia

Erasmus, The Praise of Folly

             Wyatt, Collected Poems

             Sidney, Major Works

             Elizabeth I, Collected Works: Vol. 1

             Spenser, Yale Edition of Shorter Poems

             Shakespeare, Sonnets

             Marlowe, Complete Plays

             Dekker, Shoemaker’s Holiday

             Bucholz and Key, Early Modern England, 1485-1714: A Narrative History


Week 1

Tues, Sept. 13   Introduction to English writing of the 16th Century–the Tudor Reign and English Culture; Intro to Humanism


Week 2

Tues, Sept. 20   Erasmus’ Praise of Folly;

                          Bucholz and Key, Intro. and Chapter 1


Week 3

Tues., Sept. 27  More’s Utopia;

                          Bucholz and Key, Chapter 2; Synopsis of Criticism


Week 4

Tues., Oct. 4     Wyatt (try to read all of the poetry, or at least read a majority of poems from each section); Intro to Courtiership and Lyric Poetry;

Bucholz and Key, Chapter 3; Synopsis of Criticism; Handout Sample Conference Proposals


Week 5

Tues., Oct., 11  Sidney’s Defense of Poesy; the rise of an “English literary culture;”

                          Bucholz and Key, Chapter 4; Synopsis of Criticism


Week 6

Tues., Oct., 18 Astrophil and Stella; Synopsis of Criticism


Week 7

Tues., Oct., 25  Queen Elizabeth I: Part I: (Poems 1-15 check book for page numbers as you will skip around our book), Speeches (pp. 51-2, 56-80), Letters (pp. 205-212, 232-233, 237-256, 259-261; Part II: Readings from Elizabeth I (Letters pp. 110-131; Speeches pp. 325-326, 332-344); [You will note that I have you jump around a bit with your readings today. I have tried to group readings around a few themes: 1. Poetry, 2. Elizabeth negotiating to maintain power as a woman, 3. Elizabeth’s leadership.]; Elizabeth as ruler, woman, and fashioner of an image.

                          Bucholz and Key, Chapters 4-5; Synopsis of Criticism


Week 8

Tues., Nov. 1    Sonnets, lyric poetry and explorations Part II: Spenser, Shephard’s Calander; Patronage and Writing; Synopsis of Criticism

                          Bucholz and Key, Chapter 6


Week 9

Tues., Nov. 8    Spenser, Amoretti, “Epithalamium;” Conference Paper Proposal Due; Synopsis of Criticism


Week 10

Tues., Nov. 15 Shakespeare, Sonnets; Synopsis of Criticism


Week 11

Tues., Nov. 22 Marlowe, Doctor Faustus; Synopsis of Criticism


Week 12

Tues., Nov. 29 Marlowe, The Jew of Malta; Synopsis of Criticism


Week 13

Tues., Dec. 5     Dekker, Shoemaker’s Holiday


Week 14

Tues., Dec. 12 Conference Paper Presentations (Handout Take-Home Final)


Week 15

Tues., Dec. 19 Putting it Together (Take-Home Exam Due)


Purpose and Goals:

             My primary goal for this course is to explore various genres of sixteenth-century English writing in historical and scholarly context. If you know anything at all about this era, it is probably something about Shakespeare, the greatest and most popular of its writers. If you know anything about English history, you probably know a little about Henry VIII’s six wives (several of whom he had executed), or you may know a little about Elizabeth I (who has been a major subject in the movie Elizabeth and a minor but funny player in Shakespeare in Love.) This era, above all else, was a turbulent and dynamic time when England was beginning to unify, gain strength domestically and internationally–and as England gained in economic and military strength, its arts also burgeoned. By assigning chapters from Early Modern England, 1485-1714, we will be better able to situate our readings within the complex and fascinating historical period.

             What I hope we will accomplish together is an enthusiastic dialog in class regarding the many great writers of this era who were influenced by the world in which they lived. The writers I have selected are not representative of all English society (literacy rates were increasing but still not close to universal and writing was often the domain of those privileged enough to receive an education), but they represent a range of thinking about one’s place in the world in early modern times. Thomas More and Erasmus convey an educated sense of humanist humor in their works, with More giving rise to the genre of utopian literature–something that is very much alive today in science fiction writing. We will also see how lyric poetry, especially sonnets, became ways of showing off one’s intellectual sophistication as English writers tried to show they could match up with the best European writers. The sonnets are show-off pieces, but they, at times, verge into deep emotional waters that sometimes hint at the emotionally personal form of 20th century confessional poetry. We will also explore the writings of Elizabeth I herself, and how she constructed her own self-image out of words. Finally, we will touch on the surprising phenomenon of the London stage. Migration to cities made London particularly dyamic, and in this period theater as a profession really came into being. We will consider two popular playwrights: Christopher Marlowe (the guy who was bigger than Shakespeare when he was still alive), whose bold writing style and love of bold, outlandish characters packed them into the theaters, and Thomas Dekker, whose Shoemaker’s Holiday represents a joyous, if idealized, view of city life.

             In the process, you will gain a much more sophisticated understanding of many genres of writing: prose fiction, poetry, theoretical treatises and drama. This understanding will develop out of an exploration of how writing is a product of its era even as it helps shape and create that era. Thus great literature comes out of specific historical conditions: that it can still speak to us today reflects how these writers also tap into issues and concerns (love, power, fear, lust, etc.) that we all experience.

             Through in-class discussions, mini-lectures by myself, critical summaries, response papers, and conference-type papers, you will find multiple avenues for you to explore and refine your understanding and interest in this exciting period.


Assignments and Grading (Based on 400 total points) :

1. Classroom Discussion                                       (15% of grade; 60 points)

2. Response Papers                                               (15% of grade; 60 points)

3. Synopsis of Criticism                                        (10% of grade; 40 points)

4. Conference Paper (9-10 pages)                         (25% of grade; 100 points)

5. Conference Paper Presentation                         (10% of grade; 40 points)

6. Take-Home Final Exam                                    (25% of grade; 100 points)


Conference Paper:

             This is an argumentative, research-driven paper that fits the general paradigm of papers you might present at a conference. Typically, a conference paper is 10 pages (or 17-20 minutes). The bibliography/works cited list is in addition to the ten pages. I’ll explain the details more later. My goal for you with this assignment is to get you into scholarly research in an approachable manner (this is less intensive than writing a 20+ page research paper).

             Those of you who are thinking about going beyond the M.A. level might wish to try and present this paper at one of any number of graduate conferences. Such an exercise will build your resume/cv as well as give you a sense of whether or not you wish to continue on with the Ph.D. For those of you with no interest in such things, the conference paper will be immensely practical for you for a number of reasons. This paper helps you dig further into scholarship on literature, and your positing your own argument within this body of criticism will make you that much more conversant of the issues regarding literature. A conference paper is also short enough that you can incorporate many of its ideas and information into your own teaching if you are teaching at the secondary level. For high school teachers, you might not often get a chance to teach Erasmus, More, or Dekker, but you often teach lyric poetry and drama. Honing your scholarly knowledge of sixteenth-century poetry and drama will pay dividends when you teach these genres to your own students.

             To move this beyond just an intellectual exercise, you can find out what conferences are out there and submit your own conference proposal. There are many places to find out about upcoming conferences (various organizations like MLA, NEMLA, RSA, etc. publish this information). One place is to check the CFP (call for papers list) list run by the University of Pennsylvania English Department: http://cfp.english.upenn.edu/


Synopsis of Criticism

             For most weeks, one or two of you will present a brief overview of the state of criticism regarding the day’s readings. You will give a quick report (a couple of minutes) on what you have found. In addition, please hand in an annotated bibliography of the sources you cited. Follow MLA or Chicago Style, and under each bibliographical entry add three or so sentences summarizing the article and what you thought to be its strengths and weaknesses. I would imagine that you will summarize about three articles in total. Do make sure that you are current with your articles. Not all of the articles need be from the past 20 years, but a couple should be recent. If you select both old and recent criticism, you might actually enjoy seeing how criticism has changed over the decades. Here my goals for you are to help you get a larger sense of the debates regarding our readings, think about where your own interpretation might fit within the existing body of scholarship, make you more comfortable with reading criticism, push your own thinking further on the subject, and perhaps, if you summarize a topic you want to turn into your conference paper, provide a stepping stone to doing your research paper.

             SSC’s library is not exhaustive, but we have many journals and books (I’d particularly recommend Studies in English Literature as a good place to start). We do have many other journals available online. For example, the excellent English Literary Renaissance is available through some of our databases (and you can access most of their articles online here). Do check with me and/or a reference librarian for more help. If you want to know a bit more about a particular scholarly journal, consult the MLA Guide to Periodicals. We have a link to this source on the Library’s database page (it comes right after the MLA International Bibliography–itself one of the best databases for scholarship on literature).


Response Papers

             You will write four (4) response papers during the course of the semester. This is an opportunity for you to formulate your own thoughts and opinions before coming to class; one result is that this project will help us take class discussions to the next level as you will have digested the day’s readings before class. It is up to you when you do your response papers. I will collect them at the end of each class–I will not accept them after that. The response itself should be a page or two (either single or double spaced typed). Your writing should not be sloppy, but it can be informal. Focus on one or two key ideas that struck you from the week’s readings or how they relate to previous readings. Are you interested in how one or two poems represent gender roles? Are you interested in the politics within the literature. . .?


Class Participation & Attendance:

             Everyone must participate to his or her fullest capacity. This is largely a discussion-based course, and my lectures will be short to devote most of our time to discussion. I believe that students find literature most meaningful and memorable when they are actively invested in debating its meanings and possible interpretations; you can’t get that if I spend all of my time telling you what I think about it! You must be here to participate! *****If you miss more than two (2) classes, you must have permission from me prior to any further absences. Missing more than two classes will lower your overall grade by 1/3 letter grade for each additional absence.*****



             Plagiarism can also show up in many forms. Basic fairness means that if you get an idea from an outside source or person, play it safe and acknowledge it through direct quotations or footnotes. Do review standard MLA and/or Chicago Manual of Style documentation. Do not assume that just changing a few words or paraphrasing someone else’s ideas will turn it into your own idea. Feel free to check with me if you are concerned whether or not you might have inadvertently plagiarized. Plagiarism is the most serious offense in academia, and it can lead to your expulsion.

Sign-Up for Synopsis of Criticism Project



Thomas More’s Utopia



Thomas Wyatt’s Poetry.



Sir Philip Sidney’s Defense of Poesy



Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella



Queen Elizabeth’s Writings



Edmund Spenser’s Shephard’s Calander



Spenser’s Amoretti and/or “Epithalamium”



Shakespeare’s Sonnets



Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus



Marlowe’s Jew of Malta