Graduate Course Description

350:620 - Renaissance and Reformation from Erasmus to Milton

Course No: 350:620
Index # - 20492
Distribution Requirement: A2
Wednesday - 1:00 p.m.
MU 207

Renaissance and Reformation from Erasmus to Milton

Thomas Fulton

English literature is profoundly inflected by the event of the Reformation and the ever-evolving vernacular Bible. Moving toward such works as Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Milton’s Paradise Lost, this course traces the history of literary production as it assumes and often confronts the problems of humanism and religious reformation. The course begins in the Italian Renaissance and moves quickly to the north, exploring the consequences of the new approaches to texts inaugurated by humanists such as Valla and Erasmus. Once in Tudor England, we look closely at two related trends: 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.

This course explores a major part of literary history not otherwise covered by our curriculum and seeks to serve several other curricular needs: 1) to provide a survey from 1500-1700 equipping students with an essential knowledge of Renaissance humanism and its perplexing relationship with the Reformation; 2) to bring students into contact with “religious turn” in early modern studies, and involve them in current debates about the role of religious controversy in literary study; 3) to acquaint them with the formative but often understudied literature of the early Tudor period, such as that of Wyatt, Erasmus, and More; and 4) to explore the relationships between hermeneutics, literary representation, and criticism. The course begins in the European setting with figures like Erasmus and Luther, tracing the debates and problems generated Renaissance and Reformation, and moves quickly north to England, exploring the work of Wyatt, Anne Lock, Spenser, Donne, Shakespeare and other dramatists, and Milton. (Since the latter part of the syllabus could take many potential directions, I am eager here to fill the particular interests and needs of students.) We read secondary such as: Auerbach, “Figura”; James Simpson, Burning to Read; readings by Debora Shuger, Stephen Greenblatt, Brian Cummings, etc. Students will be required to give a series of short presentations, and write a longer seminar paper at the end.

Sample primary texts:

Dante, essays on Allegory

Erasmus, Handbook of the Militant Christian (1501; “Englished” by Tyndale in 1533); Annotations (1516)

Thomas More, selections from diatribes against Tyndale

Luther and Erasmus, Debate over Free Will (1525)

Thomas Wyatt, Poems, Psalms; Surrey, Poems

Anne Lock, Meditation of a Penitential Sinner; Aemilia Lanyer, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.

Edmund Spenser, Faerie Queene (1596), selections

Mary and Philip Sidney, The Sidney Psalms and other texts.

Shakespeare and others, Sir Thomas More (1593-1604?) Hamlet (1600?), Measure for Measure (1604), Henry VIII (1613). Donne, Poems; Herbert, Poems.

Milton, Paradise Regained and/or Lost (1674) and some prose, depending on student needs.