As readers of the tradition of early English poetry, we often identify a period with its most famous author and the most famous or infamous characteristics of their literary production. We have heard of the “Age of Chaucer,” the “Age of Shakespeare,” and even the “Age of Milton.” We often attach identifying adjectives to these names. We begin with bawdy Chaucer, pause at inventive dramatic Shakespeare, and end with epic Milton. In this class, we will read works that introduce us to these canonical writers, but also allow them to surprise us. What happens if we first encounter Chaucer as a scientist, Shakespeare as a classicizing poet, and Milton as a dramatist with a sense of humor? We will read some of the most popular works of these early English canonical authors alongside their less popular works so that we may understand how diverse a single author’s literary contribution could be and discover the surprising ways that literary careers could take shape in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
From Chaucer, we will read the “Prologue” to the Astrolabe, The Book of the Duchess,The Man of Law’s Tale, and The Miller’s Tale. From Shakespeare, we will read Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece and A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. From Milton, we will read Comus, Aeropagitica, and selections from Paradise Lost. In addition, we will read the The Pearl alongside Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, two works composed by the same anonymous medieval poet. Requirements include perfect attendance, discussion participation, and three papers. No exams.