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Winter Quarter '08

English 322: The Elizabethan Age

Tu Th 7-8:50pm Denny 211

Office phone: 543-6203 Padelford A-407

Office Hours: Tu Th 5:00-6:00, and by appt

Assignments and Updates


Reading and Writing the Elizabethan Age


Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

Assignments and Updates | Blackboard

Course Overview

So, OK. You start off this period with a bunch of guys (yep, guys) writing in Latin, trying to figure out how to teach reading and writing to the boys (and even some girls) of England. Not all that many kids read or write—it’s a pretty backwards place. Big yawn.

But somehow, by the end of the century there emerges from all this a writer many believe the greatest England has ever known, William Shakespeare. Moreover, he is surrounded by a crowd of other writers, all trying new things—plays, sonnets, romances, lyrics. It’s the Elizabethan age, a place of paradox and literary experiment. It’s an age dominated by men, yet ruled by a woman whom many would still say was the most successful monarch England has ever had. In 1588 Elizabeth’s tiny navy defeated the Spanish Armada, the most powerful fleet ever to have sailed the renaissance seas—a sign of a place that was going somewhere, you might think. Yet back in London the most successful theatre movement of all time had been chased out of the city by its drama-fearing rulers and forced to set up shop across the river among the prostitutes and pickpockets and bear-baiters! What a place of contrasts!

Everybody knows something about Shakespeare, the single best known literary figure of this or perhaps any age. This course will introduce you to the rest of Elizabeth’s amazing courtiers and subjects: Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene and Sir Philip Sidney to begin with, but others as well. We’ll also spend a good chunk of time on Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, one of the most remarkable poems ever written, and we’ll submerge ourselves for another chunk of time in the bizarre world of Elizabethan love poetry: “When my love tells me she is made of truth, I do believe her, though I know she lies….” So writes Shakespeare in one of his sonnets, and captures in a single line the paradox, the humor and the pathos of being in love. And that’s just the beginning.


More, Utopia; Spenser, The Faerie Queene; Rice and Grafton, The Foundations of Early Modern Europe, 1460-1559 (2nd ed.); Kinney, Renaissance Drama, 2nd ed.; and on-line materials to be downloaded.



The chief goal of this class is to make you more informed, confident and, especially, active readers of Elizabethan poetry, drama and prose. We will approach this goal in three ways. First, we will be reading and discussing a number of texts closely in order both that you become skilled readers of Elizabethan literary language, and that you leave the class familiar with a few of the period’s major works. Some of our work will be in full-class settings; some in small groups.

Second, because poetry comes to life when read aloud, I will ask you to prepare oral presentations at least twice during the quarter—one a reading of a speech from a play we'll be studying, one a sonnet or stanza spoken from memory.

Third, I strongly believe in the value of writing as a means of learning. It is one thing to read a poem or a play; it is quite another to write about it coherently. Writing requires that you engage actively with your reading, and ensures that you—and everyone else in the class—come ready to contribute to the general class thinking. Accordingly, you’ll be writing something for every class meeting—usually something informal, a “response” paper of no more than two pages. Further, you will be submitting all of your writing in your Elizabethan Age Portfolio—a collection of all the writing you do for the quarter, along with a Self-reflective Essay describing your experience in this class.

Some of your writing will be E-posts. I have set up an E-post board with Catalyst.


I hope to make this board integral to the class; you may post to it at any time. I will require you to post to it on occasion.

Structured writing for the course will include two midterms, and the Elizabethan Play Project. One midterm will be in-class, the other take-home, and dates for each are noted on the reading schedule.

Course Grading: 400 Points, apportioned in the following way:

Midterm 1: 100 (Pt 1, 30; Pt 2, 70)
Midterm 2: 100
Elizabethan Play Project: 100
Portfolio: 60
Attendance/Participation: 40

Why so much writing? Several reasons. First, writing is the single most effective way almost any of us have to make our learning active. The mere reading of assignments, by contrast, is an essentially passive process. Though your mind goes through steps enough to make the reading make sense, it rarely goes much beyond that point, nor is it forced to build connections to the conceptual frameworks you already have with any kind of strength or resilience. Most restricting of all, however, is that without active and engaged work with pen (or computer) and paper your mind may also not do the re-structuring of conceptual frameworks necessary to your becoming comfortable with the active reading of literary texts.

Second, the writing you do will also prepare you for our time together in class. With your having been actively engaged in a writing project, class sessions will move faster, group work will be much more interesting and efficient, and every person in the class will actually have read the assignment and be able to contribute to the whole. Our work together will be better because you will have already made progress on the day’s work before class even begins.

Third, you will simply learn more. Having to write will force you to confront what you don’t already know, and will give you constant practice with the skills that the active reading of these authors requires.

Finally, writing well truly is central to education in English. It is, after all, what the rest of the world thinks English is all about—and will expect you to be able to do. You SHOULD be doing constant writing—so much so that it doesn’t feel like quite such a big deal in the first place.

What I want. My criterion for the daily papers is ECI: “engaged critical intelligence.” You don’t have to be “right,” and you don’t have to be polished. You don’t even have to solve entirely whatever problem I give you. But I do want to see real effort, even if it’s only to narrate for me the difficulties you are having as you try to come to grips with the assignment.

How Much Time Should You Spend Writing? In the past some students have spent more time and anxiety on these responses than is necessary. Please understand: though I genuinely do want you to take this writing seriously, I’m not asking for a series of “English papers.” I call them “response papers” to suggest that their purpose is to be responding with an Engaged Critical Intelligence both to the reading and to my question(s) about it. In specific terms that means: I expect from you either TWO typed pages, or ONE FULLY ENGAGED HOUR of writing. If you want to spend more time than that—fine. Just don’t go over two pages.

My response to your responses. I certainly do want your papers to be coherent, but the daily response papers are not supposed to be fully finished works. And because they are informal in this way, I will also rarely read them with the same close attention I will give to your formal work. Their primary usefulness is in the writing itself. I take it as axiomatic that you will get substantially more from this class by having written regularly throughout than you otherwise would—and end-of-quarter evaluations from earlier classes confirm that most students agree.

Moreover my intent is that these exercises will be useful to you whether I actually read them or not. Indeed, I will not collect every set of papers at the time you write them (though you will be collecting them as you complete them, and turning them in as part of the course portfolio at quarter’s end). And when I do collect them, my comments will be of the “OK,” “good,” or “I’d like to see more thinking going on here” variety. (If you want more specific response to your work, please come talk with me during my office hours.)

Late Papers. As much as I wish it were otherwise, I cannot accept late response papers. With the reading of multiple sets of up to 25 papers each over the course of the quarter I will have trouble enough keeping them straight already! You can, however, miss up to two assignments without any deductions from your final portfolio grade. I also do not accept emailed papers. Again, this is principally a paper management issue--I simply cannot keep track of papers coming in from different inputs at different times and places! Thanks for your understanding.

Truth in packaging disclosure:

1. In past quarters, most students have rated this class as useful and relevant. But when students haven’t like it, they tend to complain that they never really understood what I was asking them to do in the first place. I take that concern seriously; I will demonstrate what I want as clearly as I can in class, and Reading and Writing the Elizabethan Age has lengthy explanations as well. But even if most will get the hand of active reading by quarter’s end, some of you are still likely to find the process very difficult. If you feel as though you aren’t getting it, I strongly urge you to talk with me. In the end, it is up to you to get help. DON’T PUT IT OFF!!

2. Because they are writing for every class session, students report working more on this class than they generally do for other classes. The average time spent runs between10-12 hours per week, but some report they worked as much as15-16 hours (still within the average of 3 hours per credit which the University sets as its standard for 5 credit classes, but more than you may be able to spend).

3. The median grade (50% above, 50% below) in my upper division classes runs anywhere from 3.1 to 3.3. That is NOT the bottom grade—it is the median grade. That means that a number of you may indeed get a 2.5 or a 2.7 or a 3.0, even though you may have done better than that elsewhere. If that is going to make you unhappy, then, again, you should get into a different class.

4. Attendance and Participation are part of the course, and they presuppose engaged and timely completion of writing assignments. I take role randomly during the quarter, but I also use my review of your portfolio work to evaluate your class participation. Incomplete portfolios mean incomplete participation.

5. All assignments must be completed on time. Your score on any paper reflects whether your work has met this requirement.

So much for the work you’ll be doing. Now for a word of caution and of reassurance. Although this is an upper division class, I know that some of you will not have read much poetry before. Not to worry. Poetry of this period isn’t hard so much as it is different in time and language. Once you’ve learned something about the Elizabethan Age, and provided you do the reading and writing carefully and on time, you should be able to keep up with the work (see paragraph 2 below in Truth in Advertising). If, however, for some reason you expect to be missing class, or to be unable to keep up with the assigned work, then I very strongly urge you to find something else to take!!!

Tentative Reading Schedule

Week 1 (Jan 8): Introduction: Active Reading, More's Utopia.

Jan 10: RE-Boot. Re introduction, and a start on More's Utopia

Week 2 (Jan 15): More's Utopia, and Marlowe, Faustus, Scenes 1-4 . RWEA:

Sections I, II.

(Jan 17): The rest of Faustus. "Humanist Knowing" ( Blackboard )

Week 3 (Jan 22): Elizabethan Sonnets (Handout) RWEA: Section III (Quiz)

(Jan 24): More Sonnets. FEME, Chap 1. (Quiz)

Week 4 (Jan 29): Spenser, The Faerie Queene Book III, Cantos 1-2. "Reading

Spenser" ( Blackboard )

(Jan 31): The Faerie Queene III.4-6.

Week 5 (Feb 5): The Faerie Queene III 7-8.

(Feb 7): The Faerie Queene III 11-12 Midterm, Part 1 (1 hr in-class)

Week 6 (Feb 12): The Faerie Queene IV 1,3- 4. FEME, Chap 3 (Quiz)

(Feb 14): The Faerie Queene IV 5-6.

Week 7 (Feb 19): Midterm 1, Part 2 Due. Library Fieldtrip to Special Collections.

(Feb 21): In class introduction to A Woman Killed with Kindness. (or, the problem with women's rights), and a Farewell to the Faerie Queene.

Week 8 (Feb 26): Heywood, A Woman Killed with Kindness

(Feb 28): FEME, Chap 5 (Quiz) A Woman Killed with Kindness, along with an intro to The Duchess of Malfi.

Week 9 (Mar 4): Webster, The Duchess of Malfi.

(Mar 6): The Duchess of Malfi.

Week 10 (Mar 11): The Elizabethan Play Project Night (Project paper Due)

(Mar 13): Elizabethan Play Project Night, cont'd and Course conclusion. Portfolio Due (see Blackboard).

Finals Week You will have a second midterm/final, but you will not be meeting on campus for that final. You will be submitting that online. I will be posting the prompt on my website, and you will be responding. I will give you details as the time nears; the last possible time for submitting the final paper will be on the scheduled final date for the class (March 20).




Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

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