William Oram, T Th 3:00-4:50 p.m.
Edmund Spenser occupies a pivotal position in the development of English poetry. He wrote in practically every nondramatic form available to Renaissance poets- epic, pastoral, sonnet-sequence, elegy, satire, poems of celebration, translation, free imitation. He became a model for subsequent English poets, partly because of the range and brilliance of his work, and partly because he is the first "laureate" poet- the first English writer to insist on the importance and even the centrality of letters as a career. Where earlier poets in Renaissance England tend to be either amateurs--refusing to publish, elaborately dismissive of their writing--or "professional"--turning out work for the theater or the printer, and open to the charge that they are primarily interested in money--Spenser argued that the poet was a kind of secular priest, or divinely-inspired seer. While he may have changed his mind about the nature of his career, his work became a model for many later English poets.
Our main concern will be with The Faerie Queen, which is the longest great poem and possibly the greatest long poem in the English language. Spenser worked on this poem over most of his writing life, and it deals with a great variety of concerns: salvation and damnation, the nature of sexuality, the forces binding together civilizations, the meaning of change in the universe. We will read most or all of The Faerie Queen as well as a number of Spenser's shorter works, the pastoral poetry with which he began and ended his career, and the sonnet-sequence which he capped with a marriage-poem to celebrate his won approaching wedding. In all this we will focus on how he reworks what past writers have done, reshaping genres to accommodate his own vision.
The course will operate by a mixture of lecture and discussion. Students should have some previous acquaintance with the ideas and works of which Spenser makes frequent use: English 200 (the first half of The English Literary Tradition) or English 202 (the first half of Western Classics in Translation) or a course in Renaissance literature (including Shakespeare) is the kind of preparation I have in mind. See me if you're not sure you have the right background.
There will be three essays (the first two done in draft and rewritten) and a final exam as well as a certain amount of ungraded work.