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Course No: 350:542
Index # - 18239
Distribution Requirement: A2
Thursday – 1:10 p.m.
MU 207

Renaissance and Reformation from Erasmus to Milton

Thomas Fulton

Few events in history had as shaping an impact on English literature as the Protestant Reformation. Its proponents advocated the wide dissemination of the most read of vernacular texts, the Bible, which also came with a complex set of instructions, seemingly overturning those of the Catholic Middle Ages, on how the text should be interpreted. Putting it bluntly, people became obsessed with texts, reading, and interpreting. New ways of reading produced new modes of writing – writing that attended closely to the directives of the great reformers such as Luther, Calvin, and Tyndale.

Or, at least, so the story has been told. This triumphalist account of literary culture has recently been questioned from several points of view. The Reformation is no longer seen as a single event that sweepingly converted the English-speaking world, but a series of tumultuous “reformations,” none of them particularly complete. Great authors of the English Renaissance – Donne, Shakespeare, Jonson, Herbert, even Milton – have now proven far less susceptible to categorization; their relationship to the reformation far more agonistic – and perhaps far more interesting – than has been maintained. English poetry may be shaped more by antagonism to than by acquiescence in Reformation ideas.

This course will read literature and literary theory from before and after the Reformation – starting briefly with Dante and medieval examples before moving forward through the pivotal figure of Erasmus and to a series of case studies on Wyatt, Spenser, Shakespeare, Herbert, Donne, and ending with major biblical works in the Restoration, particularly Milton’s Paradise Lost. We follow two related trends in literary history: the effects of the revolution in textual studies on literary production, and the engagement of literary texts with the rise of Protestant literalism and other cultural changes wrought by the vernacular Bible. Readings of primary material will be accompanied by both traditional and revisionary scholarship in the field, including Erich Auerbach, Brian Cummings, Stephen Greenblatt, Barbara Lewalski, and James Simpson. Previous knowledge of the material is not required.

Writing Requirements: Seven short weekly papers, frequently presented in class, and one short final conference paper-length essay.

Sample primary texts:

Erasmus, Handbook of the Militant Christian (1501; “Englished” by Tyndale); Annotations (1516)
Thomas More, selections from diatribes against Tyndale, Utopia.
Luther and Erasmus, Debate over Free Will (1525)
William Tyndale, The Obedience of a Christian Man (1521), Bible translations
Edmund Spenser, Faerie Queene (1596), selections
Shakespeare, Sir Thomas More, Hamlet, Measure for Measure
Milton, Paradise Lost (1674) and some prose works

Sample secondary texts:
Brian Cummings, The Literary Culture of the Reformation (Oxford, 2002)
James Simpson, Burning to Read: English Fundamentalism and Its Reformation Opponents (2007)
Erich Auerbach, “Figura.”

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