This course starts with Chaucer, runs through Shakespeare, and ends with Milton, but rather than generalizing about what makes these writers "great" we will focus on the specific historical contexts in which they wrote. Who were these authors writing for? What expectations did these audiences have about writing, reading, speaking, and hearing? How did the material circumstances of printing, publication, and oral performance affect what these authors wrote as well as how we see those writings today? These and other similar questions will inform our class as we explore the different traditions and conventions of a range of genres of writing. Texts will include selections from Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton, but will also include other materials, both "literary" and "non-literary," such as medieval religious drama, Renaissance anatomical treatises, legal documents, and engravings.