ENG 398 - The Literature of Reformation England, 1500-1650 (Fall 2012) 

st george

                             Albrecht Durer, St. George and the Dragon (1508)

Dr. Joel M. Dodson | Engleman D264 

TR 1:50-3:05

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This course is an introduction to 16th and 17th c. British literature, focusing on the English Reformation as a lens for understanding the themes, ideas, and controversies of the early modern literary world.

To speak of the Reformation is to speak of one of the two great “re’s” that have come to define what we now think of as the transformation of English poetry, drama, and prose after 1500: Renaissance and reform. When scholars refer to this period as the English “Renaissance,” what they typically mean is the period of re-birth and renewal of classical learning that produced the Age of Shakespeare and Milton. By the 1590s, however, the average English man or woman on the street would have been much more likely to speak of his or her age, if at all, as one of “reform” – an age keenly aware of, and even haunted by, the cultural, social, and political changes wrought by the Protestant Reformation begun by Martin Luther and, later, the separation of England from the Roman Church.

For us as readers, the connections between the Reformation and English literature are very much worth exploring. While “Renaissance” implies a return to Greek and Latin themes in 16th and 17th c. literature, “reform” implies the re-shaping of English literature around the native habits, beliefs, and superstitions of its own people. Moreover, while Renaissance suggests the flowering of refined letters, the English Reformation was about a crisis – a crisis that divided parents and children, Protestants and Catholics, radicals and conformists, and Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and that also spurred the competing ideas of religious and literary “form” in the genres of drama, lyric, romance, satire, and even the novel emerging in the early modern period. 

To understand this literary crisis, we will read closely a handful of major Tudor and early Stuart writers in what we might call the “Age of Spenser,” including Spenser, Wyatt, Sidney, Marlowe, Nashe, Donne, and Marvell. Assignments will include smaller writing assignments (“Working Papers), a keyword project, a presentation, and a short research paper (6-7 pp.). 

 © Joel Dodson 2014