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May 21, 2010

Good luck for the exam!

Tuesday 1st June 2010 (week 6)

9:10am, Butterworth Hall

Best of luck to you all!

March 19, 2010

Re–reading suggestions

Here are some suggestions, questions and discussion points which you might like to bear in mind as you revisit our key texts over the next few weeks in your own time. They're obviously not exhaustive of the points of interest in each one, but this selection specifically tries to prompt some of the important debates and ideas that transcend individual texts and tie the Med/Ren module together.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

In the Everyman tradition of morality dramas, a “blank” human figure is manipulated on a spiritual journey by opposing forces of good and evil. How far is Gawain an “Everyman” figure? Can his spiritual journey be related to that of Redcrosse?

What do Gawain’s armour and arms signify? Think about the other armed knights we meet: Redcrosse, Britomart, Arthur. What happens when armour is removed? What kinds of spiritual, physical and moral protection do the knights depend on?

Gawain journeys from court through wild forests. There is a marked contrast between civilised and untamed spaces throughout our work: Faerie Queene, The Knight’s Tale, The Franklin’s Tale, Wyatt’s translations of Petrarch. How are these figures affected by their environments? What do they mean?

Hunting and love-making are closely linked in Fitt 3, and the figures of Cupid the archer and the chaste huntress Diana pervade Renaissance literature; how are love and violence associated throughout the course?

Honour and chivalric reputation are central to Gawain. What are we meant to understand by these concepts? Compare Gawain with his counterpart in The Wife of Bath’s Tale or the knights of Faerie Queene. How does honour develop?

Canterbury Tales

Cuckoldry and fears over women’s chastity pervade the Tales. How far are women active in seduction (cf Bertilak’s wife), and how far are they objectified (cf Florimell)?

What is a virtuous woman? The Wife of Bath, Dorigern and Emelye have some views. Compare them with the women of Faerie Queene Book III.

How does Fate pervade The Knight’s Tale and The Nun’s Priest’s Tale? Where does man fit into the universe? How much control do we have over our own destinies? Shakespeare and Sidney are preoccupied with this too, while Spenser creates his own mythology about how the universe perpetuates itself in the Garden of Adonis.

How do Chaucer and Spenser utilise fabliau motifs for educational/entertainment value? How does this fit in with Sidney’s theories on the power of poetry in Defence of Poesy? How cruel is their treatment of mankind?

Do the images of Eden in The Merchant’s Tale and Faerie Queene I.xi-xii have anything in common?

How much attention do we need to pay to the narrators of the Tales and their influence on the stories they tell? Can this be usefully compared to the strategies employed by the poets of Gawain and Faerie Queene, or the speakers of the sonnets? How artful are our poets?

Lyric Poetry

How painful is unrequited love? It’s described as an illness, a wound, an act of violence. Compare this to the masque of Cupid in the House of Busirane, or to the contrasting attitudes of Timias, the Witch’s son, Britomart herself, Aurelius (Franklin’s Tale), Palamon and Arcite or Damian (Merchant’s Tale), to name just a few.

How far is unrequited love about the object of love, and how far is it about the lover?

The importance of procreation is a major theme in the first seventeen sonnets of Shakespeare, as well as elsewhere. How far is this a wooing device? Or is there a genuine concern with the continuation of lines? See the importance of Britomart’s lineage and the contemporary concerns over Elizabeth’s heir. How, in all these, is procreation positioned in the ongoing war against time? Think about the Garden of Adonis.

What is the nature of “truth” in lyric poetry? What does Sidney argue is the value of poetic truth? Is truth, in fiction, even important (particularly if you’re trying to teach something)?

Spend some time looking at form and sound. How do the music of the lines and words impact on meaning? How does the formal, rhetorical construction of the whole piece (often built around a ‘volta’ or turn) turn each song or sonnet into an argument?

Faerie Queene

The allegory of Faerie Queene shifts and changes, like a “dream narrative”. How does this allegory compare to earlier stories such as The Knight’s Tale? How can these allegorical reading strategies help you interpret the sonnets? For example, Britomart’s entrance into the castle of Busirane plays on conventional ideas of what “fire” represents.

The formal complaints (rhetorical bemoaning of loss/unhappiness) of Una and Britomart are part of a formal tradition. How do they compare to those of Dorigern, Emelye or the speaker of Howard’s “O Happy Dames”?

How do the “tests” suffered by Redcrosse compare to the Green Knight’s challenging of Gawain?

Faerie Queene Book I is usefully read in light of the Reformation and anti-Catholic discourse. How do these political sentiments translate to the more political sonnets and songs we have looked at? What are the fears and anxieties that underpin the writing of the period?

How does Gloriana, Arthur’s (seemingly) unreachable goal, link to the striving of Petrarch, Sidney and Wyatt after their “loves”?

What are the greatest challenges facing good Christians? How do these challenges relate to those facing Gawain and Dorigern?

February 10, 2010

Term Two essay questions

Please write an essay of 1500-2000 words on one of these titles, to be handed in during the Week 10 seminar (Friday 19th March).

2nd/3rd year honours students: 3000 words, and please hand in to the office by Friday 19th March as usual.

1. How does Wyatt develop the idea of an individual speaking voice in his poetry? What does this creation owe to poetic convention?

2. Discuss the influence of Petrarch's poetry on two or three English sonneteers? How do they alter what they borrow?

3. What do we gain from reading Sidney's Astrophil and Stella as a sequence?

4. Compare Sidney's way of writing sonnets with Shakespeare's.

5. How do Shakespeare's sonnets 1-126 differ from 127-54? You may, if you wish, discuss other divisions within the Sonnets, such as Burrow's chronological divisions: 1-60; 61-103; 104-126.

6.How do sixteenth and seventeenth century songs use the form of the song? What are the advantages of writing songs over sonnets?

7. What part does error and failure play in the education of Redcross in The Faerie Queene book 1?

8. To what extent does The Faerie Queene book 1 or book 3 succeed in Sidney's goal of creating "a speaking picture, with this end, to teach and delight" (Defence of Poetry)?

9. How does Spenser portray different types of love in The Faerie Queene book 3?

10. How does Spenser make use of the classical epic tradition in The Faerie Queene books 1 and 3?

11. What is the role of the allegorical houses (such as the House of Pride, the House of Holiness) in The Faerie Queene?

12. How does Spenser use allegory, poetry and narrative for the purpose of "fashioning a gentleman... in virtuous and gentle discipline" (Letter of the Authors) in The Faerie Queene?

February 05, 2010

Make Your Valentine's Perfect – a debate

It's almost too good to be true that, upon opening my e-mails after the Sidney seminar, I found the below message from the MA in Creative Writing in my inbox:

"A picture may paint a thousand words - but words can get someone to take their clothes off."

Would you like to make your Valentine's Day extra-special this year? Desperate to find new ways to tell your special someone you love them? Or have you always harboured a secret crush on another student, a friend or even a lecturer and think that 2010 is the year to make that move?

Then, this Valentine's, sit back and relax as our poets play cupid to perfection.

We are a group of Warwick University poets who have banded together to fulfill your every Valentine need. We're raising funds for a creative project, and for a small donation, we'll give you the words you need to woo that special someone – or just make them laugh!

All you have to do is tell us what you want from the list below and one of our highly skilled poets can provide you with your special requests - made to order and delivered during Week 5 and Valentine's weekend. We can create love sonnets that will leave heads spinning, write an ode that will get tears flowing and even pen sensual stanzas that will have panties dropping.


£1.50 - Well known words by well known poets. Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Keats, we will find you the perfect poem.

£2.50 - Want something original? We'll write you one to spec.

£5.00 - For a little more, you can have it written, sealed and delivered to your Valentine.

£10.00 – Deliver a Poet-a-Gram: have us dress up and recite the poem to your Valentine in person - anywhere on campus!*

Go on. Indulge yourself - and your Valentine. This won't just be a another Valentine's Day. This will be the Valentine's to remember.

Obviously this is a bit of fun, but it does raise some interesting questions in the light of our discussions today. I found myself immediately wondering quite what Sidney, as he articulates himself in Defence of Poesywould make of the kind of service where people write poems in order to express the feelings of others. Compare his complaint:

Truly many of such writings as come under the banner of unresistable love, if I were a mistress, would never persuade me they were in love: so coldly they apply fiery speeches, as men that had rather read lovers' writings. (pp. 972-3)

So, my questions for you are:

1) How could this sort of service be justified according to Sidney's philosophy?

2) Considering our discussions about the 'I' and 'truth' in sonnets, how far can that 'I' be transferred to another subject? This is interesting in terms of literary patronage; in the early modern period, sonneteers often wrote their poems as a plea for favour to a patron, but it's not impossible that they could also have written poems on behalf of their patrons: wooing by proxy, as it were. If, though, the Muse tells one to "look in thy heart and write", can another's words ever be sufficient?

3) Looking ahead to next week - are Shakespeare's sonnets really appropriate as Valentine's gifts?!

Work for Week 5 – Shakespeare's Sonnets

In class, you were all given a handout with two sonnets on, critically edited. These are photocopied from:

  • Duncan-Jones, Katherine (ed.). Shakespeare's Sonnets. The Arden Shakespeare. London: Thomson Learning, 1997.

Duncan-Jones' notes will help you as you become familiar with these poems. When you come to class next week, you'll be the designated expert on your two sonnets. You'll be in groups with people who've read different poems, so I'll be asking you to combine your ideas and reading, and think about the themes and images that transcend individual poems within the sequence/collection.

The sonnets for this week are:

15, 60, 73, 94, 129, 130, 144 (all found between pages 1063-75 in your anthologies).

Please don't lose your handouts, as they have group numbers on for next week's session!

Don't forget, too, to hand in your commentary during next week's seminar.

February 02, 2010

Defence of Poesy extracts for Week 4 seminar

I hope you're getting on well with Sidney's Defence of Poesy, which, as I said last week, is one of the most important documents to get your head around when thinking about the values of Renaissance poets.

As you'll have noticed, the Norton anthology only includes extracts, so if you're enjoying it, I'd heartily recommend reading the full piece - it's not that much longer, and it fleshes out several of the arguments.

In this week's seminar, we'll be focussing on the sonnets you've prepared, but I hope that you'll be able to put your reading of the Defence to good use as you unpack the sonnets' layers. I've picked out four quotes in particular that I suggest may have useful interpretative bearing on our selections, and you might like to think about these in advance as you prepare the poems:

1. This quote, incorporating the final words of the Defence, reiterates some of the most important uses that Sidney sees poesy having:

[To critics of poesy] thus much curse I must send you, in the behalf of all poets, that while you live, you live in love, and never get favour for lacking skill of a sonnet; and, when you die, your memory die from the earth for want of an epitaph. (p. 974)

2. This quote counters a major criticism of poesy: that the writing of fiction equates to, essentially, lying:

Of all writers under the sun the poet is the least liar, and, though he would, as a poet can scarcely be a liar [... because] he nothing affirms and therefore never lieth. [...] Though he recount things not true, yet because he telleth them not for true, he lieth not. (pp. 967-8)

3. This one was omitted from the Norton anthology, but I've included it here as one of the first defences of "poetic licence". Sidney is comparing the historian - the teller of factual truth - with the kinds of truth a poet deals in. I've edited it down so as to make the point clearer, and italicised some words for emphasis:

If the question be for your own use and learning [as opposed to a question of objective historical fact], whether it be better to have it set down as it should be or as it was, better [...] the feigned Aeneas in Virgil than the right Aeneas in Dares Phrygius; as, to a [unattractive] lady that desired to fashion her countenance to the best grace, a painter should more benefit her to portrait a most sweet face [...] than to paint [her] as she was. (this fits in the omitted asterix section on p. 961)

4. One of the running arguments through the Defence is that the inadequacies of poetry are down to individual bad poets, not to the artform itself. Here's part of his criticism which is particularly relevant to Astrophil and Stella sonnet 1.

[Criticising inferior poets] Truly many of such writings as come under the banner of unresistable love, if I were a mistress, would never persuade me they were in love: so coldly they apply fiery speeches, as men that had rather read lovers' writings. (pp. 972-3)

January 29, 2010

Work for Week Four – Sonnets (Sidney and Drayton)

In Week Four, we'll primarily be introducing Sir Philip Sidney, the consummate "Renaissance Man" - scholar, poet, soldier and hero. Our main focus will be on sonnets, building on what you've been learning about them over the last couple of weeks, and our examples are drawn from Sidney's great Astrophil and Stella, as well as a couple from Michael Drayton's Idea.

The lecture will hopefully discuss sonnet sequences - for now, it's important to remember that, while these sonnets all stand individually, they are also part of their wider series. Please do feel free to read around the other extracts from Astrophil and Stella in your anthologies, as getting a sense of the wider concerns of the series will be extremely useful in discussing what's going on in specific sonnets.


Philip Sidney: Astrophil and Stella sonnets 1, 5, 71 (pp. 975, 976 and 986)

Michael Drayton: Idea sonnets 6, 61 (p.1000)

Please read at least these five sonnets. Choose one Drayton and one Sidney that you'd particularly like to focus on, and we'll move between your selections as we did in the Wyatt seminar.


Philip Sidney: Defence of Poesy pp. 954-74

Sidney's long manifesto for the creative arts is an essential document in Renaissance criticism. Not only does it give an insight into what Sidney was doing (or attempting to do) in his poetry, but it also argues for the importance of "poesy" (by which he essentially means all fiction: poetry, prose, drama) in the new, enlightened world of the English Renaissance. We'll be integrating ideas from this into the seminar, so do read it and use it to inform your thinking about the sonnets.

January 28, 2010

Commentary Assessment – DUE WEEK 5

To be handed in during the Week Five seminar (Friday 12th February)

Please write an 800-1000 word commentary on ONE of the following poems to hand in during the Week Five seminar.

Remember this is a commentary rather than a research essay. This means that you don't need to look for information on authorship, date or background etc. - we're interested in your reading of the piece.

1. On the imprisonment of the Earl of Somerset

Dazzled thus with height of place,
Whilst our hopes our wits beguile
No man marks the narrow space
'Twixt a prison and a smile.

Then, since fortune's favours fade,
You that in her arms do sleep,
Learn to swim, and not to wade;
For the hearts of kings are deep.

But if greatness be so blind
As to trust in towers of air,
Let it be with goodness lined,
That at least the fall be fair.

Then, though darkened, you shall say,
When friends fall and princes frown,
Virtue is the roughest way,
But proves at night a bed of down.

2. On Phillis' Sickness

How languisheth the primrose of love's garden?
How trill her tears th' elixir of my senses:
Ambitious sickness, what doth thee so harden,
O spare and plague thou me for her offences.
Ah roses, love's fair roses, do not languish,
Blush through the milk-white veil that holds you cover'd.
If heat or cold may mitigate your anguish,
I'll burn, I'll freeze, but you shall be recover'd.
Good God, would beauty mark, now she is crazed,
How but one shower of sickness makes her tender:
Her judgements then to mark my woes amazed,
To mercy should opinion's fort surrender:
And I - O would I might, or would she meant it-
Should hurrah love, who now in heart lament it.

January 22, 2010

Work for Week Three seminar – Thomas Wyatt

Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder is, I put to you, one of the most fascinating of all English literary figures. Indisputably influential, this is the man who introduced sonnets into English, AND was accused of having an affair with Anne Boleyn. Not someone who plays things safe, and spent a lot of time in the Tower as a result.

For next week, we'll be looking at his sonnets and his lyrics. While I expect you to read all of the below poems, I particularly want you to become expert in two: spend a while reading and re-reading them, and come to the seminar prepared to share your thoughts.

1.  Sonnets

The two sonnets below are both paired on the same page with a modern prose translation of one of Petrarch's poems. Wyatt's versions are part-translation, part-adaptation, all-Wyatt. Read your allocated sonnet alongside the Petrarch, and concentrate particularly on how Wyatt has adapted the original to suit his own purpose within the poem. Prepare by yourself in advance, and you'll have time in the seminar to discuss in your groups.

Aranya, Leisha, Holly, Hattie, Kieran (10am group); Jack, Zoe, Becca, Lucy P, Heather (11am group):

"Whoso list to hunt" and Petrarch, Rima 190 (p. 595)

Catherine, Sam, James, Charissa, George (10am group); Inga, Lucy F, Kate, Bruno, Charlotte, Dan (11am group):

"My galley" and Petrarch, Rima 189(p. 597)

2. Lyrics

Updated 26/01 with correction to choices

Read the following three songs, then choose one you particularly wish to think about and focus on that. Do a thorough close-reading of your selection: form, rhyme, rhythm, argument, speaker(s), themes, imagery etc.

"Who list his wealth" (p. 603)

"They flee from me" (p. 599)

"Forget not yet" (p. 601)

January 19, 2010


I'll be playing some recordings of Renaissance songs in the seminar, but here are a few useful links in case you want to have a listen yourself first:

Campion: "When to her lute Corinna sings" (p.1229) performed by Andreas Seibert and Michael Ernst (original setting)

Campion: "Fain would I wed" (p. 1231) performed by Goldoolins (original setting)

Jonson: "Song to Celia" (p. 1436) performed by Duke Special

Jonson: "Song to Celia" (p. 1436) performed by Johnny Cash (both of these are the famous, anonymous, 18th century setting)

Wyatt: "Blame not my lute" (p. 602) performed by "Blake12000" (original setting, instrumental only)

Happy listening!

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