English 501: The Renaissance and Literary Tradition: Teaching Shakespeare; Teaching Spenser.
One purpose of 501 is to show how Renaissance texts require something different if they are to be read well from what texts from other periods do. In this course we'll do that by focussing on just two authors, one--Shakespeare--greatly loved and hugely read in the twentieth century, even by people who haven't the first clue about the English Renaissance, the other--Spenser--greatly loved but seldom read, even by English graduate students. The two illustrate beautifully a seeming paradox of literary history: the first apparently accessible, "easy" to read and (beyond the now somewhat archaic vocabulary) without much need for "historical context" (Shakespeare, Our Contemporary, one critic titled his book); the other apparently IN-accessible, seemingly "hard" to read--indeed, completely impossible without stacks of arcane preparatory work. As one might imagine, of course, Shakespeare turns out to be more difficult to read well than many moderns have thought, and Spenser turns out to be a great deal easier--provided one starts from the right place.
Within that context, the business of this course will be twofold: First, we will find and explore at least one such "right place" from which the reading of Shakespeare can be interestingly complicated, and the reading of Spenser interestingly simplified, and that will be the place of "knowing"--for the Renaissance generally had a sense very different from ours of what it knew, how it knew it, and what good any of what it knew actually did. And second, we will focus all our reading and discussing through questions of teaching each of these authors. Those questions would include: What are the problems teachers encounter when they set out to teach these authors? What might one choose to accomplish in the teaching of Shakespeare? Why would one want to teach Spenser at all? How can one make the language of Renaissance England come to life for late 20th-century readers?
Texts: Shakespeare, Henry IV, part 1, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, Pericles (Signet Editions); Spenser, The Faerie Queene (Penguin Classics); Miller and Dunlop, eds, Approaches to Teaching Spenser's Faerie Queene; (MLA, 1994); Hunt, ed., Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare's The Tempest and Other Late Romances (MLA, 1992); Teaching Shakespeare into the 21st Century (1998); Rice and Grafton: The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 2nd ed. (Norton, 1994).