English 50: Romantic Poetry and Performance


Michael Gamer <mgamer@english>

Office: 203 Bennett Hall, 898-7346

Course Homepage: http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Teaching/50


Course Description:

Authors rarely write within a single genre, whether writing now or at the turn of the nineteenth century. Consequently, in this section of "Romantic Poets" we will read both the poetry and other writings of romanticism's poets, particularly their dramas and their non-fiction prose. Generally, we will take three approaches to our texts. We'll read individual poems both as poems (as responses to poetic tradition) and as public statements (as responses to contemporary culture). In addition, we'll read several poetic collections as collections, and therefore as material objects (books) participating within a specific economic marketplace (publishing) mediated by specific institutions (reviewers, clergy, and government prosecutors) and individual readers. On the way, we'll hopefully gain a sense of what poetry became in these years (as well as what it has become since) and why its conventions at the turn of the nineteenth century coalesced so strongly with those of the British stage. There will be responses, three essays, and a final.


Coursepack: Available at Wharton Reprographics, basement of the Wharton School.


Books: Available at Penn Book Center, 34th and Sansom. Phone: 222-7600.


Course Calendar:


Jan 16:      Introduction to course: "Ozymandias" and "The Solitary Reaper."

Jan 18:      Read the "Introduction" by Stuart Curran, and selections from Charlotte Smith, Elegiac Sonnets (1784) in the coursepack. For Discussion: Sonnets I, IX, XII, and XLIV.

Jan 23:      Poetry and Sincerity. Read Adam Smith, "On Sympathy" from The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and John Aikin and Anna Letitia Aikin (later Barbauld), "On the Pleasure Derived from Observing Objects of Distress" (1773). Read also the selections from the poetry of Hannah More and Helen Maria Williams in the coursepack. For Discussion: In relation to the Aikins' essay, More, "Sensibility: A Poetical Epistle to the Hon. Mrs. Boscawen" (1782); Williams, "To Sensibility" (1786); and Williams, "Sonnet: To Mrs. Siddons."

Jan 25:      Aesthetics, Sensibility, and Landscape. Reread the Williams poems, read the selections in the coursepack from Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757), and read the chapters from Uvedale Price, On the Picturesque (all in coursepack). For Discussion: we will discuss some of the remaining Williams poems.

Jan 30:      Response due date. Sensibility, Performance, and Persona. Read Jerome McGann, "The Literal World of the English Della Cruscans" and the poems by Robert Merry ("Della Crusca"), Hannah Cowley ("Anna Matilda"), and Mary Robinson ("Laura Maria") in the coursepack.

Feb 1:      Persona, Performance, and the Stage: Comedy. Read Hannah Cowley, A Bold Stroke for a Husband (1784).

Feb 6:      Response due date. Poetic Origins, Literal and Figural. Read William Wordsworth, "Sonnet on Seeing Miss Helen Maria Williams Weep at a Tale of Distress"; William Lisle Bowles, Fourteen Sonnets (1789); and selected "Effusions" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge from Poems (1796). We'll discuss the Wordsworth sonnet; Bowles, "To the River Itchin"; Coleridge, "To the River Otter"; and any other sonnets about which you wish to talk.

Feb 8:      Melodrama: Read Elizabeth Inchbald, Lovers' Vows (1798), and Matthew Lewis, The Captive (1803).

Feb 13:      Response due date. Conversation and Sincerity. Read Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "The Aeolian Harp," "Reflections on Having Left a Place of Retirement," "This Lime Tree Bower My Prison," "The Nightingale," and "Frost at Midnight." For Discussion: "The Aeolian Harp" and "Frost at Midnight."

Feb 15:      Reread the Coleridge, and read William Wordsworth, "Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798." For Discussion: Either "This Lime-Tree Bower" and "Tintern Abbey."

Feb 16:      First Essay Due. See assignment.

Feb 20:      Response due date. Conversation in Political Context I. Read Samuel Coleridge, "Kubla Khan," "Fears in Solitude," "France: An Ode," and "Frost at Midnight." For discussion: I'd like you to think about the following question. Given that "Frost at Midnight" was published in a pamphlet that contained "Fears in Solitude" and "France: An Ode," how does our reading of it change? Given that "Kubla Khan" was written at the same time as these poems, does knowing this change how we might read that poem?

Feb 22:      Read through Lyrical Ballads, focusing on the ballads in the collection. Our Discussion will focus on "Simon Lee," "Goody Blake and Harry Gill," "The Idiot Boy," and "The Thorn." If traditional ballads are usually heavy on plot and sensational devices like violence and the supernatural, how are these ballads different and what do you make of the difference?

Feb 27:      Conversation in Political Context II. Read the poems in Lyrical Ballads (1798) and read the essay by Marjorie Levinson, "Insight and Oversight:  Reading 'Tintern Abbey.'" For Discussion: We'll start with Levinson's essay and "Tintern Abbey," and move quickly on to the poems you've isolated through your responses to the following Assignment: Isolate a poem in Lyrical Ballads that you think could benefit from the kind of political reading Levinson performs. Where do you see history and politics either erased or else recast aesthetically?

Mar 1:      Responses to Lyrical Ballads. Read, in this order, the "Advertisement" (1798), the Reviews (1798-99), and the "Preface" (1800) to Lyrical Ballads. For class, we'll discuss the readings as well as any poems you'd like to discuss.

Mar 6:      Response Due Date. Responses to Lyrical Ballads II. Reread Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and then read Mary Robinson, selections from Lyrical Tales (1800). For Discussion: "All Alone," "The Haunted Beach," and any other poems you wish to discuss.

Mar 8:      The Sublime Revisited. Reread Burke's Sublime and Beautiful. Read Percy Shelley, "To William Wordsworth," "Mont Blanc" and "Ode to the West Wind." For Discussion: A slide show, and then "Mont Blanc."

Mar 9:       Essay Due Date for those who wish to take another bash at the first essay. If you wish to take spring break for this, please put the essay in my box on Monday after break.

Mar 10-19: Spring Break.

Mar 20:      Response due date. From Sensibility to Passions. Read Joanna Baillie, "Introductory Discourse" (selections) and De Monfort (1798).

Mar 22:      Finish De Monfort. Read Joanna Baillie, Orra (1812).

Mar 27-Apr 5: Response Dates March 27 and April 3. Read Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (1814). For March 29, read the essay by Syndy Conger. For April 3, read the essay by Edward Said (both in coursepack).

Apr 10:      Response Due Date. From Sensibility to the Passions II. Read Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto I (selections) and Manfred (1816).

Apr 12:      Finish Manfred. Read Lord Byron, Beppo (1818).


Apr 17:      Response Due DateFinish Beppo. Begin Percy Shelley, The Cenci (1819).

Apr 19:      Finish Percy Shelley, The Cenci.

Apr 24:      Response Due Date. Read John Keats, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and Other Poems (1820). For this class, we'll focus on "The Eve of St. Agnes."

Apr 26:      Continue with Keats. For this class, we'll discuss the Odes: "To Psyche," "On a Grecian Urn," "To Melancholy," "To a Nightingale," and "To Autumn."







This class will conduct itself as a seminar--that is, as a group of people sharing mutual interests who meet regularly to pursue those interests. Our class, consequently, will be discussion-based and egalitarian in tone. This means that the class will only work if you come prepared to talk, to listen, to question, and to argue with me and with one another. I've set up the course so that you will have considerable freedom to come into class with your own agendas and questions. Obviously, with this freedom comes responsibility. On the one hand, as a class, we must agree to honor each other's interests and intellectual tangents, and respect what each other thinks is important; on the other hand, it is every seminar member's responsibility to be succinct, and not to waste the rest of the members' time by gassing on incoherently about a personal hobby-horse. Most importantly, it means responding to one another rather than talking at one another. If this all sounds a bit like a marriage ceremony, that's not entirely accidental; we're going to have to live with one another, for better or for worse, for 42 hours of class time. So, if you are extremely shy to the point of being incapable of participating in an open and thoughtful discussion, I don't think that this is the class for you.



As this course is a small seminar, your presence matters. Since I know that disasters happen unexpectedly during the semester, I allow you two absences. Since there's no such thing in this class as an "excused" absence, I don't want to know why you miss class; your two absences are your business. Missing more than two classes is equally your business, but it will significantly lower your grade, since it will inhibit your ability to contribute significantly to our discussions. You should count on 3-4 absences lowering your grade by 1/3 (B to B-, for example), 5-6 by 2/3 (B to C+), 7-8 by one full grade (B to C), etc. More than 10 will constitute failing the course. Please do NOT explain to me why you miss class unless it involves a major illness (missing more than a week of class), in which case please tell me as soon as possible and get a note from your doctor.





1) Two Short Assignments (see syllabus for dates) and Four Responses (Total 20% of the grade; approximately 300-500 words each): Part of the preparation for our meetings will be responses that you will send to gamer50@dept.english.upenn.edu. These responses will be due on Sunday, by 6 p.m., beginning on Sunday, January 30 (week #3). On the syllabus, I've provided several (seven, I think) due dates on which you can do responses; you can pick any four of them.

I'll place the responses on the web each week so that you can print them easily. Response #1's address will be http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Teaching/50/response1; response #2 will be http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Teaching/50/response2, and so on. Every member of the class should print out the responses, read them closely, and bring them to class along with the texts we'll be discussing. You should arrive to class having selected two passages from the responses. Ideally, they should be passages that you wish to discuss further, ones that you like immensely, or ones that you disagree with strongly. You should be prepared to read those passages aloud and explain why you want to discuss them.

I'll be grading the responses on a scale from + (plus) to √ (check) to - (minus), and will evaluating them based on their engagement, thoughtfulness, and ability to instigate meaningful discussion. You should know that I will downgrade these if they arrive late, since they constitute the single most important part of the course. They will be the basis from which we begin our discussions, and will play a key role in my sense of your involvment and performance in the course.


2) Portfolio (50% of grade): The portfolio is due in on December 14 at 4 p.m. in my office. It will consist of a final version of your short paper and your long paper, both of which I will have read in draft during the semester.

i)  Short Paper (20% of grade, no more than 2000 words): I would like you, at any point before fall break, to write me a 4-6 page essay (1250-2000 words) that fulfills the following assignment: "At some point during the semester, you will find that we as a class have not discussed a particular text in the ways that you think it needs to be discussed. We either will have ignored a vital aspect of that text or have misread it--or perhaps we simply will have failed to discuss the text from an important perspective. Possibly in class you will even have raised this key issue only to find that, for some reason, the class ignores it for some other issue. It is very likely that in illuminating one area of the text we will have made ourselves blind to other, equally interesting areas of the same text. Or possibly we will fail to discuss--or gloss over superficially--an entire section or even an entire text (possible in the case of the shorter ones). Assignment: Write an essay in which you situate your own viewpoint in relation to this class discussion--one in which you attempt to show the class another, better way of reading this text. How does reading this particular text from your angle change what that text means or can mean? For example, perhaps we have failed in discussion to notice key political or homoerotic aspects of a novel or essay; by exploring these aspects, how does this change what the text can signify? How does it alter the meaning that we can make out of the text? You may use responses and discussions from the class listserver as well as class discussions for this assignment."

                 This assignment is designed to make you identify a discussion that is already--or has already--taken place and to situate your own interpretation and argument in relation to that discussion. The goal of your essay, then, should be to intervene in our discussion--to describe that critical conversation, to explain (in relation to it) what you want us to see, and then to show us how to see it and argue why you want us to see it. Your Essay should at least do the following:

(1) Describe what particular class conversation to which you are responding. You need especially to explain what blind spot or deficiency in that critical conversation that you are seeking to address and transform;

(2) Analyze in detail the aspect of, approach to, or angle on, the text that you are interested in, spending time demonstrating how it works and what its larger function is within the text;

(3) Demonstrate how your analysis illuminates the text and forces us to change our stance on the text or this issue; in other words, you will need to spend your last several paragraphs explaining how your analysis challenges the meanings that we produced in our class discussion, and even transforms it. This means that you will need to justify the value of your insights. Regarding (3), you may wish to think of the assignment in this way: if you are going to force your readers to slog through a couple of thousand words of your analysis--not unlike climbing a steep hill--there'd better be a pretty good view at the top of that hill. You are addressing readers who have read your text and see it in a certain way; your job is to show us another, equally interesting, way of seeing the text. What does your analysis illuminate that we couldn't see before, and why do you think that this is ultimately an interesting or valuable thing to see?


ii) Long Paper: (30% of grade): This essay should be at least 2500 words, and should not be padded. You should consider it to be just like the articles that you read during the semester, and you should follow the conventions of critical articles. It is probably best to conceptualize this essay as a longer version of the short essay (see above), except that you will be intervening in a current, real, existing discussion occurring between literary critics in print out there. This means that the aim of this essay is still to challenge and transform existing interpretations of your text in question, but that those existing interpretations will gathered from recent published literary criticism. Therefore, you will need to acquaint yourself with the critical literature out there that concerns itself with your texts or issues, and that you should make yourself an expert in your texts' reception and production. You should think of your audience, then, as no longer your classmates but rather as the very critics out there whom you are reading, and who are therefore interested in the same issues that you are.


Important: For both the short and the long essay, you'll find critical articles to be helpful as models, since critical essays usually go about their business in the same way that I have outlined above for the short essay assignment. You may find it a good exercise to read critical articles with an eye to writing your own essays. What problem is a given critic re-examining? Why? How is that critic intervening in an already-existing critical conversation? How does that critic wish to transform that critical conversation and/or the poem at hand? Therefore, I strongly suggest that you find a critical writer whom you like and emulate that critic's way of setting up (framing) a problem. This is very different from plagiarizing someone's argument or content; instead, I mean that you should study a writer or an article that you find both persuasive and beautifully written, and try to understand how that writer structures arguments and makes points.


3) Final Exam: (30% of grade): This will consist of identifications, basic literary history, and an essay.


A Note on Late Work and Extensions:  During the semester, I DO NOT ACCEPT LATE DRAFTS. If you do not make the deadline for the short or long essay, it does not directly affect your grade; you simply lose that opportunity for me to read your work and provide you with feedback. I do this because I do not want anything to do with the hassles of students asking for extensions, bringing excuses, etc. I will only read each paper you write once before the portfolio. However, I am happy to discuss work in progress with you during my office hours or by appointment; and will be very happy to talk with you about an essay that I've commented upon.