Foundations of British Literature


In this course we will study in detail three central figures in the early formation of British literature, exploring both their individual contributions to literary history in English and the inter-textual relationships between them. Spenser viewed Chaucer as the “well of English undefyled,” while Milton praised the “sage and serious poet” Spenser as a better teacher than the most revered moral philosophers. Some of our central questions will include the following: How does English emerge as a newly self-conscious “literary” language in these authors?  How do their texts respond to other canonical models (Dante and Boccaccio in Chaucer’s case, for example, and the Bible in Milton’s)? How do these works reflect or respond to political/cultural events? How do these authors explore the vexed issues of gender and sexuality in their works?  How does Milton, for example, transform both Biblical and Spenserian material to create his enormously influential characterization of Eve? Our emphasis in this class will be on close textual and contextual analysis, focusing on careful readings of the texts and supplementing these with relevant historical and critical materials. I will supply pdf copies of primary and secondary sources not available in your own editions that I think you will find helpful as we read these works.


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