(Course Convenor: Professor Helen Hackett)
This course reaches from the works of Thomas More to those of Milton and Bunyan, running from Reformation to Revolution and its aftermath, and covering perhaps the most seminal 150 years in all English history and literature.
Though Shakespeare has a paper to himself, he by no means dwarfs such contemporaries as Spenser, Sidney, Jonson and Donne, and is, indeed, only to be appreciated adequately in context. The dramatic achievements of the Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights, even without Shakespeare, remain unrivalled, and include the morbidity of revenge tragedy and the vitality of city comedy. Poetry develops in rich variety and startling originality, from Wyatt through Donne to Herbert and Marvell: it encompasses all kinds of love from the transcendental to the decidedly carnal, as well as the crises of identity and conscience produced by an age of religious turmoil. Spenser and Milton are responsible for the two great English epics, and much else besides. The new technology of print enables the rise of prose fiction, and the gradual spread of education enables some women writers to come forward. Bacon and Hobbes laid the foundations for 'modern' scientific and political thinking, and a prose style to go with it; while the resonant language of the King James Bible was to echo through English literature for centuries to come. Almost all writers of note in English since have found the era, in one way or another, unforgettable.
The purpose of the course is to introduce students to a range of crucial works, and to build upon and around these towards an appreciation of the surrounding landscape, its characteristic geology and importance as a background for what was to come. (Although Milton’s later works and the works of Bunyan fall after the Restoration in 1660, they are included on this course as their literary character places them in the Renaissance.)
course is taught by means of a combination of lectures, seminars, and
tutorials. Examination is by means of a 3-hour written paper, or by Course
Essay, if preferred and if no other Course Essay is being submitted by the
candidate in that year.