This class explores the tradition of lyric verse in England up to and including the first printed collection of poetry, Tottel’s Miscellany (1557), the watershed volume that established the Elizabethan sonnet form. We will read widely in medieval and early Tudor poetic forms (in the original language, which we’ll learn to read). We will start by exploring how the material context of medieval poetry — the manuscripts in which it was written down — shape English lyric in its early forms. How are ideas about selfhood, voice, and poetic form influenced by the medium of the manuscript? How do the contents of manuscripts, which are usually miscellaneous, influence the meaning of particular poems and the cultural work of poetry itself? Basic introductions to medieval paleography (handwriting) and codicology (the study of manuscripts as objects) will allow us to think about these questions using digital facsimiles of medieval manuscripts. At the end of the term, we’ll consider how the technology of print changes poetic tradition by reshaping ideas about the poet, the reading of poetry, and poetry’s status as literature.
Required texts: Michael Alexander, Earliest English Poems (Penguin); M. Luria and R. Hoffman, eds., Middle English Lyrics (Norton); A. Holton and T Macfaul, eds., Tottel’s Miscellany (Penguin).
Assignments will include two short essays of close reading (3 pp.), an abstract of a scholarly essay (3 pp.), an in-class midterm essay; a class presentation; and a final paper (8-10 pp).
No prior experience in medieval or Early Modern literature is required. Interested non-Honors students may petition the instructor for permission to enroll.
This class has a mixed format of discussion and lecture; informed and engaged participation in class discussion will play a significant role in assessment.