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May 18, 2010

Optional sample commentary

This is an optional sample exercise, designed to give you practice on the commentary section of the exam. If you'd like to practice, please do e-mail me sample commentaries.

Comment briefly (approximately one side) on the following passage, taking into account points of interest in the passage itself, and its relation to the work as a whole.

'Lo, lord,' quoth the lede and the lace hondeled,
'This is the bende of this blame I bere in my nek;
This is the lothe and the losse that I laght have
Of cowardise and covetyse that I have caght thare;
This is the token of untrauthe that I am tan inne,
And I mot nedes it were whil I may last.
For none may hyden his harme bot unhap ne may hitte,
For ther hit ones is tached twynne wil hit never.

tached: attached
twynne: be separated

From Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, Fitt 4

March 05, 2010

Work for Week Nine: Faerie Queene Book III, Cantos i – vi

Read Book III Cantos i-vi

Presentations/Thematic Maps: Leisha, Hattie and Catherine (Group One); Heather, Daniel and Kate (Group Two)

Book III is less linear than Book I in these first six cantos, with a lot of back-story and “flashback”, and several different narrative strands to follow.

There are two important conceptual threads that you should be following:

1)    Distinctions between chaste and unchaste love/behaviour.

2)    Representations of Elizabeth, the “Virgin Queen”, paragon of chastity.

This book provides education on the complex nature of Chastity through a variety of exemplars and stories, so try to unpick what Spenser is teaching us.

Also, please close-read: Book III, Canto iv, Stanzas 26-7.

Previously, in Book II.....

* Guyon, the knight of temperance, has achieved his quest, overthrowing the Bower of Bliss and the lascivious Acrasia. His companion is a Palmer (Pilgrim), who provides guidance and good counsel.

* Prince Arthur and his squire Timias have won a major battle, defending the besieged Alma against the dastardly Maleger. Arthur has been sorely wounded in the battle, and is recuperating in Alma’s castle.

* Earlier in the book, Guyon and Arthur spent time in a library where they learned about the great lines of ancestry, leading to Uther (Arthur’s father) in Britain, and Gloriana (the Fairy Queen) in the Fairy Kingdom.

* Elsewhere, we have also been introduced to the vainglorious Braggadocchio, who stole Guyon’s armour and is wandering, posing as a knight, with his sycophantic follower Trompart. In a forest, Braggadocchio encountered Belphoebe, a semi-divine woodland huntress, whom he attempted to kiss, causing her to flee from lust.

February 26, 2010

Work for Week Eight: Faerie Queene Book I, Cantos vii–xii

For Week Eight:

  • Read Cantos vii - xii of Book I.
  • Pay particularly close attention to Canto x, which is the climactic section of the moral instruction element.
  • Slow-read Canto vii, Stanzas 12 and 13. Spend some time close-reading this section in the same way that we've worked on shorter Renaissance poems this term.
  • Presentations: Kieran, George and Raj (Group One); Inga, Lucy P and Zoe (Group Two)

Useful passages from Revelation (New International Version)

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations any more until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (Rev. 20: 1-3)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Rev. 21: 1-4)

The House of Holiness (Canto x):

Some useful cantos for thinking about the roles of key characters in the House (Canto x)

1.    Una (Stanzas 2, 18, 22, 23, 28, 29, 32)

2.    Mercy (Stanzas 34, 35, 36, 44, 45, 50, 51)

3.    Contemplation (Stanzas 46, 47, 49, 52, 55, 60, 61)

4.    Fidelia, Speranza and Charissa (Stanzas 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 22, 33)

February 12, 2010

Work for Week Seven: Faerie Queen Book I Cantos 1–6

1. Reading

Read The Faerie Queene Book I, Cantos 1-6. Give yourself plenty of time - it is a long poem, and dense to boot. Here's the tips from the handout I gave you in class.

  • Keep up momentum – don’t stop in the middle of a canto!
  • Take notes on the plot, and build up a list of characters and their interactions.
  • There are several levels of allegory: political, religious, moral. Use the footnotes to get your heads around the allegorical significance of characters and events as well as their literal role in the plot.
  • The first and last stanzas, as well as the ‘Argument’ for each poem, will often summarise what has just happened or is about to happen.
  • Read Spenser’s “A Letter to the Authors”, which will give you a sense of the overall design of the projected poem.
  • One of the poem’s main purposes is as a moral education, though some lessons are more overt than others. What are these lessons, and what strategies does Spenser employ to get them across? To what extent are readers made to interpret lessons for themselves?
  • While the stanza structure is constant, Spenser’s use varies: sometimes they are narrative, sometimes there are several poetic voices, sometimes stanzas act like miniature lyric poems. How does Spenser use these stanzas to vary pace and influence reader response?
  • Don’t skip over the extended metaphors/similes: these reflections on the action are extremely important. Long visual descriptions can also yield a great deal of information.

2. Thematic Maps

Groups for these mini creative projects:

10am - 11am group 11am - 12noon group
Week 7
Book I Cantos 1-6
Lucy F
Week 8
Book I Cantos 7-12
Lucy P
Week 9
Book III Cantos 1-6


Week 10
Book III Cantos 7-12

In your assigned groups, create a thematic map of the six cantos for the week. This will be in the form of a poster, which you will then introduce to the rest of the group in the seminar.

A thematic map will visually represent the progress of the story and interpret it, drawing out the most significant developments, lessons, parallels and motifs. It will also allow you to explore the allegorical progression alongside the geographical movements of the knights.


  • Important plot events and character movements, and references to any particularly pivotal stanzas.
  • Attention to both fixed locations (e.g. The House of Pride) and more temporary sites (battlefields, . Places are very important throughout the poem.
  • Notes on allegory: e.g. the period for which the Redcrosse Knight is separated from Una (Truth).
  • How is the lead character (Redcrosse, Britomart) developing as he/she encounters obstacles? Try to visually represent these developments.

We will be able to use the posters you create over the coming weeks to track the progress of both books and refer back to key moments. You have full artistic licence – the more creative you are with these, the more effective they will be as memory prompts! If you're stuck for ideas, Figs 14 and 16 on this website show some student examples of a similar exercise, and might prompt some ideas.

February 05, 2010

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.

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 15, 2010

Week Two Work: Poems

Next week, we will be looking at songs from the Renaissance period, ranging over quite a large time scale.

1) Read the following songs, taking into account what we talked about this week. Look at rhythm and rhyme schemes in particular, and think about how the poets use variants to achieve particular effects:

Wyatt: “Blame not my lute” (p. 602)

Campion: “When to her lute Corinna sings” (p. 1229)

Jonson: “Song to Celia” (p. 1436)

Nashe: “A Litany” (p. 1232)

2) Scan (remember, scanning is where you work out the metre of a piece) "A Litany". Establish the key, standard rhythms first, then look for the variants.

* * * * * * * * * *

I'll post a sample translation of the extracts from the translation test up here as soon as everyone's taken the test, so do check back.

December 04, 2009

Work for Week Ten (Franklin's and Nun's Priest's Tales)

In the Week 10 Seminar:

  • Hand in your essays! Do please get in touch with questions/problems.

  • There will be an unseen translation in class, from either the Franklin's or the Nun's Priest's Tales. No preparation needed, though as ever you might like to look over your notes from translation classes.

  • Read The Franklin's and The Nun's Priest's Tales and Prologues.

  • Suggestions for things to think about: 'trowthe' in The Franklin's Tale, and that tale's relationship with the Wife of Bath's and The Merchant's as part of a 'marriage group'.

  • How animal and human characteristics are juxtaposed in The Nun's Priest's Tale, and the purpose of this.

  • The morals of both stories, whether obvious, implied or inverted.

It's the Christmas Party seminar, and the end of Chaucer, so bring festive cheer!

November 27, 2009

Work for Week Nine: The Wife of Bath and The Merchant

Group commentary practice

For next week, instead of just doing a translation (which, by the way, I'm extremely pleased with both groups' progress on), we'll start the session with a group commentary. Similar to the one you did on Gawain, I want you to look at the passage below, read it and be prepared to discuss it. How does it fit into the poem? What are the themes and issues it presents? How does it relate to, or differ from, these themes elsewhere in the poem? How do we - or how are we meant to - respond to what is said, and to the speaker? Fundamentally, what are the points of interest in this passage, and how are they important for the rest of the poem?

The Merchant's Tale lines 1637-1647:

'I have', quod he, 'herd seid, ful yoore ago,
Ther may no man han parfite blisses two -
This to seye, in erthe and eek in hevene.
For thogh he kepe him fro the sinnes sevene,
And eek from every branche of thilke tree,
Yet is ther so parfit felicitee
And so greet ese and lust in mariage,
That evere I am agast now in min age
That I shal lede now so murye a lif,
So delicat, withouten wo and strif,
That I shal have min hevene in erthe heere.

For about ten minutes at the start of the seminar, we'll brainstorm ideas about this passage, as if you were then going to prepare a commentary piece on it. You don't have to write anything, but I will be expecting everyone to contribute. I'd also recommend translating it so you're confident with the text!


Read The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale and The Merchant's Prologue and Tale.

Some things you might like to consider as you read:

  • The Wife of Bath: proto-feminist icon of an independent woman, or misogynist portrait of man's greatest fears about women? Or something else altogther?
  • The Merchant: What ARE his views on married life?
  • The Wife of Bath's Tale: sees the return of an old friend of ours (though anonymously) - how does the Arthurian framework fit with the purpose of the tale and the issues it raises?
  • The Merchant's Tale: following on from our discussions of fabliaux, how does Chaucer adapt the genre here?
  • And, as ever, do be thinking about the relationship between the Tellers and their Tales.

November 21, 2009

Work for Week 8: The Miller's and Reeve's Tales

  • Read The Miller's Tale, The Reeve's Tale and their respective Prologues. It would also be helpful to refresh your memory of their 'portraits' in the General Prologue.

  • Translate The Miller's Tale lines 3167-3180.

  • Look for the similarities and differences in the two tales, and how they relate to their tellers.

  • What specifically is being mocked/satirised in each? Is either more offensive than the other?

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This blog is a resource for students in Peter Kirwan’s seminar groups for Medieval to Renaissance English Literature.

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