London in Literature from the Twelfth to the Seventeenth Centuries
In Sir Erkenwald, an ancient British pagan King comes back to life and asks to be baptized while a crowd of Londoners and their bishop gather in old St. Paul's Cathedral. In Le Male Regle, Thomas Hoccleve describes his wasted youth in London's taverns and red-light districts in the fourteenth-century. In Richard Maidstone's Concordia, the city of London is reunited with its King in a metaphorical marriage. In John Gower's Vox Clamantis, peasants imagined as a mob of rabid and wild animals rise against the authorities and attack London and its environs, killing all the merchants and priests in their path. In Ben Jonson's city play Bartholomew Fair, a prince in disguise suffers abuse at the hands of commoners at the annual summer fair near the slaughterhouses of Smithfield. In this class, we will read medieval and early modern poems and plays—as well as a few sermons—that depict London city life and life in London's seedier suburbs. We will become familiar with the map of the city, with the ways in which urban life is imagined, with the city's corporate structure, with the city's history, and with the literature that has always belied the idea of England as a pastoral paradise.