ENGL410 - Edmund Spenser

Prerequisite: Two English courses in literature; or permission of ARHU-English department.

Selected works of Edmund Spenser in their literary, social, and historical contexts. Special attention to The Faerie Queene; also sonnets and lyric poetry.

What does a monster vomiting books tell us about the politics of reading? What does a homicidal poet suggest about the nature of love sonnets? Or how does a seductive automaton complicate our understanding of human agency? The fantastical allegory of Edmund Spenser examines early modern England by speaking otherwise—that is, by wrapping political and moral ideas in the moving metaphors of poetry. This class will explore Spenser’s poetry and prose, which ask big questions about gender, race, tyranny, religion, and what it means to be human. We will situate these themes within the historical context of late sixteenth-century England and Ireland. In this moment of extraordinary political and cultural volatility, Queen Elizabeth had no heir; religious conflict threatened to tear the country apart; and the English colonial project in Ireland faced open rebellion. We will think about how Spenser’s work engages the instability of his context and reflect on how his work allows us to reconsider our own historical moment. The course will read The Faerie Queene in relation to his sonnet sequence, his shorter poems, and his colonial tract, A View of the Present State of Ireland, as well as critical essays that theorize these sixteenth-century texts. Course requirements will include enthusiastic class participation, two papers, shorter weekly writing, a final exam, and teaching a short lesson on Spenser’s poetry to your classmates.