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Major British Writers 1350-1660

ENGL 020.301
instructor(s):
TR 12-1:30

This course traces passages of text and time from Chaucer to Milton, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. Torture, witchburning, religious persecution, restriction of travel: such things are usually associted with the Middle Ages, but they are in fact Renaissance phenomena. Nobody in Chaucer's England was burned as a witch, persecuted for thier beliefs, or subjected to judicial torture; and Margery Kempe, born in 1373, sent much of her life traveling (to Jerusalem and Rome, Gdansk and Canterbury) before composing the first autobiography in the english language. In this course, then, we will be able to test assumptions about "medieval" and "Renaissance" culture by reading a selection of texts across this traditional divide. We will begin by reading a selection of Chaucer tales in Middle english. Such tales were written to be read and enjoyed aloud, so we will spend some time perfecting our pronunciation and performative skills. We then move onto Margery Kempe, a housewife and business entrepreneur who found religion and a vocation to travel: we will follow Margery, a fascinating and exasperating figure, as she travels to the Holy Land, embraces lepers, screams and cries in churches (driving priests to distraction), struggles to avoid having sex with her husband (having had fourteen children), avoids being burned as a heretic, and tells her life story. We may then read some of Malory's "Morte D'Arthur", but will certainly dwell on Spenser's "Faerie Queen"; we will consider the vast implications for English culture of the break with Rome (the switch from Catholic to Protestant religion), the dissolution of the monasteries, and the distruction or dislocation of medieval English textuality. We will then consider the "new world" of Shakesperian drama and the revolutionary poetry of Milton.

Classes will typically begin with some quick ideas from the podium, but will soon turn to detailed discussion of specific texts. Student participation will be warmly encouraged, although we'll be looking for concrete observations (based on close acquaintance with the texts) rather than waffly impressionism. There will be a number of texts (based on close study of particular passages) and a series of essays, but there will be no midterm or final.