Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Planning a Class - The Renaissance

A vexed title, perhaps, but there we are. I tend to look at the Renaissance as being, perhaps, a "long 16th century," from c. 1485 to 1603. I recognize there are problems with that. And I tend to try to include people who didn't have what Petrarch would have seen as a "Renaissance" at all.

Here's the course description: Studies Renaissance English literature emphasizing works by Sidney, Spenser, Marlowe, Bacon, Jonson, Bunyan, Marvel, Herrick and Donne.

So it looks like they go a little later than I probably would, since I think of Marvell as being 17th century (he's not born in the 16th, even).

The problem with this class, and it's the same problem with pretty much every class, is that there's a whole lot more great and wonderful literature than there is time to read it with undergrads in a semester. I remember as a grad student having a book titled, Silver Poets of the Renaissance, or something, which was meant to imply that these weren't actually the "good ones" but they were still pretty darned wonderful.

That said, there are some things I think are really important.* (I'm going to mark which of the anthologies has each piece, and if appropriate, which section. L=Longman, N=Norton)

More's Utopia (L, N)

Spenser, FQ (L has Book I and part of Bk II**; N has Bk I, part of Bks II and III, because who can do without the Bower of Bliss?)
--Both have October of the Shepheardes Calender, a smattering of Amoretti, and "Epithalamion"

Sidney, Apology (L has some other poetry stuffs in response; N may only have sections)
--The Arcadia (L has Book 1, N has Bk 2, Ch 1)

Locke/Lok, sonnets (neither has the sequence. What a shame!)

Marlowe, both have Faustus and "Hero and Leander"

Jonson, both have Volpone
--N has The Masque of Blackness; L has Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue

Lyly, N has a blessedly short excerpt of Euphues.***

Other Ren Drama: L has The Roaring Girl

Other: N has a tiny part of Nashe's "Litany in Time of Plague"

The selections of women's poetry and poetry in general is pretty parallel, as are the selections of writings on philosophy, religion, and education. L has a section on gender.

Now I'm off to read some of the introductory material and headnotes, to see how they compare.

General introduction: the Norton is more literary, and gives a nice background to basic political and social changes. The Longman is more social, and gives more context and less political stuff.

Comparing the introductory material and notes to More's Utopia, I slightly prefer the Norton. It's a bit more complete feeling, giving a bit more background to information. For example, rather than just identifying the future Charles V, it says that Charles and Henry were in dispure over "Dutch import duties" (524n1). Does that matter to students? Maybe not, but it helps me.

The paper quality of both is pretty good, certainly better than the tissue they used to use in the Nortons.

Finally, the Longman 4th edition 1B is $49.20 (I have the 2nd edn, so I'll have to check that things haven't changed much. Oops!)

The 4th edition has The Alchemist, not Volpone, for example. And it adds Beware the Cat!!!

It has the FQ Bk VI. Really?

The Norton 8th edition (which is what I have been looking at) runs $42.50.

So far, then, for the Renaissance class, the Norton is looking slightly better, though, Beware the Cat!!!

*And when I say really important, please take that as shorthand for "I think reading these works will help students gain the skills and cultural knowledge that will help them be able to read further in the field and have a good undergraduate grasp of what was going on in English literature and a little bit about what was happening in England in the period."

**I remember the first class discussion I was part of on Bk II, the professor quoted someone famous as calling it a very pedestrian book. Who was that famous critic?

***Yes, I know I'm in danger of losing whatever credentials I might have for that comment.


  1. "Yes, I know I'm in danger of losing whatever credentials I might have for that comment." = Hee!

  2. For what it's worth, my Renaissance colleagues, and really, all colleagues pre-1800, typically go with the Norton. In contrast, the post-1800 folks tend to favor the Longman. But I'm going to say something that will probably lose me whatever credentials *I* might have, which is that I'm not sure how much this decision actually matters. At the end of the day, I don't actually assign much of the textbook-offered material: I assign literary texts included in the anthology. Yes, the ambitious student might read all of the context stuff, but since that's not something I spend class time on, and since I tend to lecture on that stuff rather than to have them read it, I could assign any anthology and it would all be the same. I use the Longman because it feels "less stuffy" to me. But what does that even mean? In other words: choose the one that feels right to you. They're both basically the same, for all intents and purposes.

  3. SO with you on Euphues. (Really, I think I could happily live without any sixteenth-century prose fiction, other than Deloney and The Unfortunate Traveller.)

  4. Any other of the early Tudors strike your fancy? "Why Come Ye Nat to Court" or any of the early dramas? Elyot's "Pasquil the Plain"?

    (Yeah, I go for the really obscure early Tudor works when given the opportunity.) When I teach this period as a historian, I make my own supplementary reader with documents from EEBO or texts I've digitized myself like Dudley's "Tree of Commonwealth".