Module Identifier ENM1120  
Module Title SPENCER & MILTON: NARRATIVE HIST. & LIT. IN ENGLISH RENAISSA  
Academic Year 2001/2002  
Co-ordinator To Be Arranged  
Semester Available semesters 1 and 2  
Other staff Professor Andrew Hadfield  
Course delivery Seminar   2 hours per week  
Assessment Essay   1 x 5,000 word essay    

Content


The works of Edmund Spenser (1552?-1599) and John Milton (1608-74) are rarely studied in detail on undergraduate modules because of their complexity and length. Nevertheless both writers played crucial roles not only in the development of the historical canon of English Literature but also in radical and oppositional British politics, Spenser as an English Protestant in Ireland, Milton as a republican activist, theorist and regicide.


This module seeks to introduce students with some familiarity with English Renaissance Literature to the literary and political writings of both authors and to look at the relationship between both writers: Milton acknowledged Spenser as his precursor, but resisted his influence in abadoning early plans to write an epic on the subject of King Arthur - as Spenser had done - in favour of a Biblical one. The aim will be to read substantial passages together so that the ways in which kinds of narrative work can be appreciated, especially the relationship between literary and non-literary texts. How closely must we relate Spenser's poetry to the events of Ireland in the last decades of Elizabeth's reign? Can we only read Milton's poetry in terms of the English Civil War? Both sought to be actively involved in politics and wrote substantial treatises about matters of state. These will be read in terms of their poetic work in order to consider such questions. We will try to determine what effect genre has upon the content of writing or whether content can be extracted from form without violently rupturing sense.


Other topics covered will include: sexual and political equality; the politics of genre and verse form: the development of English Protestant literature; literature and national identity; epic and allegory.


1. Protestantism and Allegory


   "The Faerie Queene", Books, 1.6.7. How does the allegorical narrative of "The Faerie Queene" work? Are the oppositions
   between truth and falsehood announced at the start of the text sustainable throughout? Is Spenser in control of his work, and, if
   not, are his Protestant poetics undermined?


2. Iconociasm and Sexuality


   "The Faerie Queene", Books 2 and 3. The concept of aesthetic enjoyment was often a problem for Protestants, particularly as
   it related to sexual expression. Could earthly delights be consumed without guilt, or did virtue consist solely in obeying God's
   commandments? We shall explore Spenser's responses to such questions in his poetic narrative.


3. Spenser and Ireland


   "The Faerie Queene", Book 5: "A View of the Present State of Ireland". Spenser spent the last twenty years of his life as a
   colonial official in Ireland and published virtually all of his major work whilst he was here. By reading his unpublished prose tract
   on Ireland against his explicit allegorisation of Elizabethan politics in his epic poem, we shall explore the relationship between
   the two and ask whether it is possible to read "The Faerie Queene" without an awareness of its Irish context.


4. Liberty and Libertarianism


   "Comus and Aereopagitica". Companion seminar to 2. How does Milton deal with the question of earthly liberty and the use of
   pagan learning? Are his answers different to Spenser's? A possible response to his predecessor?


5. Narrating the Fall


   "Paradise Lost". Milton's epic, like Spenser's, a revolutionary work in both form and content, is a massive expansion of the first
   few verses of "Genesis". We will explore Milton's possible motives for undertaking his bold and innovative project and look at
   his respresentation of men, women, angels and Gods. Is there an inherent clash between the rigid hierarchies of God's universe
   and Milton's democratic learnings? Was Milton really of the devil's party as Blake claimed?


Primary Reading


Edmund Spenser, "Poetical Works" (Oxford). Or editions of "The Faerie Queens" (Penguin, Longman).
"A View of the Present State of Ireland" (xerox). John Milton, "Paradise Lose" (Longman); "Comus" (Oxford UP); "Selected Prose" (Penguin).