English 438
Topics in Spenser and Milton

Instructors: Michael Ryan and Daniel Traister
Thursdays, 4:30 - 7:10
Lea Library, 6th floor, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library

You can email Michael Ryan at ryan@pobox.edu
You can email Daniel Traister at traister@pobox.upenn.edu
You can email this class at rytr438@dept.english.upenn.edu
Traister's home page is reachable at http://dept.english.upenn.edu/~traister

Offices and office hours: Both instructors have offices on the sixth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library and are usually in.
Ryan: 215 898 7552
Traister: 215 898 7089


This class will read two long poems: Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene and John Milton's Paradise Lost. We are interested in how these poems relate to broad traditions of epic (and numerous other literary forms, as well), how they relate to one another, and how they work as long poems. We are interested as well in how they relate to the history and thought of the times in which they were written, and how they can continue to be read and enjoyed in our own very different time. The course will require a willingness to read a great deal of poetry and to speak about it in class. Some additional secondary works will also be assigned. The class will require two longish papers. Students should also expect exercises in oral interpretation of these texts (that is, reading them aloud publicly).


  1. Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, ed. Thomas P. Roche (Penguin 1979) 0140422072

  2. Elizabeth Heale, The Faerie Queene: A Reader's Guide, 2nd ed. (Cambridge UP, 1999) 0521654688

  3. The Riverside Milton, ed. Roy Flannagan (Houghton Mifflin 1998) 0395809991



Serious readers with a lot of time on their hands may also want to read some of the following works. NOTE: This list involves a great deal of reading! No one expects you to do all of it. Doing even any of it may prove daunting. This list is here for no other reason than if pleasure, inclination, and time lead you to try anything on it.

  1. Homer, The Iliad -- many translations; try Robert Fitzgerald's (Farrar Straus & Giroux)

  2. Homer, The Odyssey -- many translations; try Robert Fitzgerald's (Doubleday)

  3. Ovid, Metamorphoses -- many translations; try Allen Mandelbaum's (Harcourt), Rolfe Humphries's (Indiana U.P.), or A. D. Melville's (Oxford World's Classics)

  4. Dante, The Divine Comedy -- many translations; try Charles Singleton's (Princeton) or Allen Mandelbaum's (Knopf)

  5. Luigi Pulci, Morgante: The Epic Adventures of Orlando and His Giant Friend Morgante -- trans. Joseph Tusiani (Indiana University Press)

  6. Matteo Boiardo, Orlando Inamorata -- trans. Charles S. Ross (Oxford World's Classics)

  7. Lodovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso -- trans. Guido Waldman (Oxford's World's Classics)

  8. Torquato Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered -- trans. by Anthony Esolen (Johns Hopkins U.P.)

  9. Marco Girolamo Vida, The Christiad -- trans. Gertrude C. Drake and Clarence A. Forbes (Carbondale: Southern Illinois U.P., 1978)

  10. If you are curious to see what a contemporary English-language epic looks like -- one that Milton is known to have read -- see William D'Avenant's Gondibert (ed. David Gladish, Oxford U.P.) Some shorter Elizabeth epics are anthologized in Elizabethan Minor Epics (ed. Elizabeth Story Donno, New York: Columbia U.P., and London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963). For the later period, several shorter epics can be found in the three volumes of Minor Poets of the Caroline Period (ed. George Saintsbury, 3 vols., Oxford U.P., 1905).

  11. Last, if your knowledge of Christianity leaves something to be desired, you might wish to read, in the New Testament, (A) one, two, three, or four of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), (B) Paul's Epistle to the Romans (a text deeply influential upon Protestant Reformers and hence influential too upon both Spenser and Milton), and (C) Revelation. These will prove, if not necessarily salvific, at least illuminating. The better you know both the Old and New Testaments the more you are likely to see parallels in both of the works we read this semester. With reference to Paradise Lost, for example, Genesis 1-3 (the first book of the Old Testament, and, after all, not a very long patch of it) might also prove useful.


Reserve books are shelved in Van Pelt's Rosengarten Library (basement level) and can be retrieved through the Reserve Desk.

  1. The Spenser Encyclopedia, general editor A. C. Hamilton -- PR2362.S64 1990

    and, for historical Background:

  2. Derek Hirst, Authority and Conflict: England 1603-1658 -- DA390.H57 1986

  3. Mark Kishlansky, A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 1603-1714 -- DA375.K57 1996

  4. Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Later Reformation in England 1547-1603 -- BR375.M288 1990

  5. Alan G. R. Smith, The Emergence of a Nation State: The Commonwealth of England 1529-1660 -- DA315.S64 1997


  1. The single best resource for the language of both poems is the Oxford English Dictionary: USE IT!

  2. The Edmund Spenser Home Page (now at Cambridge University)

  3. Spenser texts (from Richard Bear's home page); see also Selected Poetry of Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) (from the University of Toronto)

  4. The Milton-L Home Page

  5. Milton texts (from Richard Bear's home page); see also The Works of Milton (from Luminarium; with some facsimiles); and -- again from the University of Toronto -- Selected Poetry of John Milton (1608-1674); from Dartmouth, see the texts (with some bibliographical information about current criticism) made available at Thomas Luxon's Milton Reading Room

  6. In general, the best source of online information about any figure in English literature is Voice of the Shuttle (Alan Liu, UC-SB)

  7. some articles about Spenser (from Luminarium); some articles about Milton (from Luminarium) -- but far better is to use the Penn Library's own English literature journals site


  1. Week 1
    18 January

  2. Week 2
    25 January

    Week 3
    1 February

    Week 4
    8 February

    Week 5
    15 February

    Week 6
    22 February

    Week 7

    Week 8