Studies in Poetry: From the Sonneteers to the Metaphysicals >> Content Detail



Course Description

This course aims to introduce students to some of the most important practitioners of poetry in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, locating them in their historical and social contexts. We will be emphasizing love poetry or amatory verse, but as we shall see, love in the English Renaissance becomes at the same time a way of talking about everything: religion, politics, history, as well as love itself. Our attempt will be to combine close reading of selected poems with an investigation of the contexts of English verse. Thus, we will examine poems not only as literary artifacts but as cultural artifacts, looking at some of the ways in which poetry codes and shapes the world outside it. The course will begin by examining in a sustained manner the sonnet tradition, tracing its development from its Italian origins in Petrarch to its distinctive transformations in the courtly culture of Elizabethan England. We will thereafter shift our attention to the so-called metaphysical poets of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, focusing primarily on Donne and Marvell.

Course Requirements

Poetry demands slowing down and lingering over lines. So, while the reading for this course is not a burden in quantitative terms, it does require care and patience. I expect, and expect you will find rewarding, careful reading and re-reading of the poems as we discuss them. The secondary readings are designed to help enrich your comprehension and enjoyment of the poems we will read. They will help you locate the verse in relation to literary traditions and genres, as well as within political, social, and historical contexts.

  • Each student will be required to do an oral presentation (15-20 minutes) based on that day's reading, and to play a leading role in class discussion for the session.
  • Each student will keep a "commonplace book" for the first half of the semester. I shall be providing more details on this assignment.
  • I will ask you to submit a brief, two page response in which you cluster together themes and patterns that recur in Sidney's Astrophil and Stella.
  • You will also compose your own sonnet.
  • You will be asked to write two essays. I will provide more detail on the nature of these as the term progresses, though the topics for these will be largely of your choosing. The first paper will be on sonnets and sonnet sequences, while the other assignment will be a research essay on a topic of your choice. In all cases, you are expected to engage closely with the verse and use secondary material intelligently to articulate and back up your readings of the poems you are studying.
  • It goes without saying that I expect students to attend and participate energetically in our discussions throughout the semester.

Each of these requirements will be carefully considered in determining your grade. If you cannot be in class or meet a deadline because of an emergency, please speak with me (in advance, if possible). Otherwise, absences and late papers will adversely affect your grade.

All essays should be typed or word-processed (double-spaced, with standard margins). I shall provide more specific instructions for each written assignment. I shall also provide a stylesheet including information about proper citation of sources; if you have any lingering doubts about the use of material beyond the text itself or about the definition of plagiarism, please speak with me before submitting your work. Any act of plagiarism will be grounds for failure of this subject. In addition to welcoming your participation in class, I encourage you to discuss your ideas and your writing with me during office hours, or at other times convenient for us both.


The different components of the course will be weighted as follows (though I reserve the right to alter this weighting somewhat---this generally works to your advantage).

Response Paper (2 Pages)5%
Commonplace Book5%
Attendance and Active Class Participation10%
Oral Presentation15%
Essay 1 (5 Pages)20%
Research Essay Prospectus and Bibliography10%
Research Essay (12-15 Pages)35%


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