We will read a number of the dozens and dozens of sonnet cycles--more or less coherently organized collections of erotic lyric-- written and published in English during the sixteenth century, including (but not limited to) those by Sir Philip Sidney, William Shakespeare, Spenser, and Mary Wroth. We will look into the slightly earlier continental rage for the form in both Italian and French culture, asking what particular need in "Renaissance" culture did the form fulfill? What was it that made the form a virtual craze throughout Europe? How might the form's paradoxical balance of lyric discontinuity against narrative or, at least, collective, coherence speak to the problems of social change, especially the question of a change in the relations between the sexes and the very (and various) value placed on erotic desire itself? Does changing the gender of the speaker and erotic object change the dynamic of desire, or is the form sexless? What is the value placed on "originality" in such an imitative form? We will pursue many more such discreet questions as these hoping that in our concentration on them we may stumble upon possible answers to larger more ordered and generalizeable questions about the genre.
Two papers, one short (10pp.) to be circulated to class members, one longer (20 pp.) and an in class oral report.