English [5--Y]: Prof. Michael Ullyot (who?)

English [5--Y]:
English Renaissance Medievalism

This prospective full-year course has not yet been offered.

Course Description and Goals

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the middle ages become a distinct, historicized, and irretrievable period of English history. Both humanism and the Protestant Reformation were predicated on the alterity of the 'middle' ages: a time in between the classical past and its rebirth, and a time whose practices were outmoded by new ways of learning, thinking, believing, and reading. Yet many Renaissance writers and playwrights promoted the continuities between their culture and domestic antiquity. They turned poets like Geoffrey Chaucer into isolated glimmers of hope in England's benighted past, and they relied on medieval history to comment on current politics. This course examines these two discourses of medievalism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We will examine Renaissance medievalism in both historical time and geographical space: in responses both to medieval literature, language, and history; and to foreign cultures like Moghul India. As both needed adapting to meet 'modern' English standards, we will concentrate on modernizations rather than revivals of medieval culture, to reveal how early modernity defined itself in opposition to its immediate and 'foreign' past.

Class format is a weekly seminar.


This course is intended for graduate students or advanced undergraduates. A working knowledge of Middle English is required for most readings. Students might benefit from reading selections from James Simpson's Reform and Cultural Revolution. In The Oxford English Literary History, vol. 2: 1350-1547 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)


Marks in this course will be calculated as follows:

  1. Two seminar presentations (2 x 20% = 40%)
  2. One 5000-word research paper (60%)

For help with writing, time management, and avoiding plagiarism, consult my guide to Effective Critical Writing.

Required Texts

Course reader with excerpts or full texts of primary and critical texts listed below. Those appearing in Douglas Grey's Oxford Book of Late Medieval Verse & Prose (1985) or Derek Pearsall's Chaucer to Spenser: An Anthology (1999) are abbreviated as [Grey] or [Pearsall], with page references.

Course Calendar (2 terms; 26 weeks)

Week 1

  • Introduction


Week 2

  • Early humanists: Duke Humphrey of Gloucester; English students of Guarino da Verona
  • Ovidianism: Anon., The Letter of Dydo to Eneas [Grey 91-3]
  • Virgil in English, late C15 to early C16: William Caxton; Gavin Douglas; Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey [extracts]


Week 3

  • Establishing the canon of medieval authors:
    • John Skelton & Stephen Hawes' pantheons of great writers
    • John Leland, Commentarii de scriptoribus Britannicis, tr. C. Brett & J. P. Carley [extracts]
    • John Bale, Index Britannie Scriptorum, ed. R. L. Poole & Mary Bateson, repr. with intro. C. Brett & J. P. Carley (1990) [extracts]
    • John Bale, 'Preface' to John Leland's The Laboryose Journey & Serche for England's Antiquitees (London, 1549)

Week 4

  • Elizabethan and Jacobean antiquarians:
    • Sir Robert Cotton and the society of Antiquaries (1586); extracts from Kevin Sharpe's 1979 and 1997 studies
    • John Dee, William Camden, John Selden


Week 5

  • Caxton, Epilogue to Order of Chivalry (1484)
  • Roger Ascham, from The Schoolmaster: 'How Italian books and Arthurian romances corrupt the young' [Pearsall 647f.]
  • Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser's debts to medieval romance: extracts from The Arcadia and The Faerie Queene
  • Extracts from Helen Cooper, The English Romance in Time: Transforming motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the death of Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Week 6

  • The Indian Summer of English Chivalry:
    • The Accession Day tilts and later tournaments
    • Chivalry in Jacobean masques; readings from Ben Jonson and Arthur Gorges
    • Thomas Purfoot's modernization of Watson's Valentine and Orson (1637) [extracts]
    • Amadis de Gaule, Translated by Anthony Munday, ed. Helen Moore (2004) [extracts]

Week 7

  • Francis Beaumont, Knight of the Burning Pestle
  • Thomas Shelton's translation of Don Quixote (1612) [extracts]


Week 8

  • The Reformation and prophetic English poetry: extracts from David Norbrook, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance (1984; rev. 2002), 28-52
  • Hugh Latimer, from The Sermon on the Plowers (1548)
  • Robert Parsons, from A Treatise of the Three Conversions of England (1603)
  • and other extracts from John N. King, Voices of the English Reformation (2004)


Week 9

  • Caxton, Preface to Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur (1485)
  • Ascham, from Preface to Toxophilus, or The School of Shooting: 'Why he writes in English' [Pearsall 646f.]
  • Spenser's language: extracts from Richard Helgerson, Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England (1992)

Week 10

  • Rime vs. quantitative meter; Samuel Daniel vs. Thomas Campion; extracts from Gavin Alexander's Sidney's 'The Defence of Poesy' and Selected Renaissance Literary Criticism (2004)

Week 11

  • Receptions of Chaucer and Lydgate
    • Glossaries and definitions in print; complaints about difficulties with Middle English, in print and MS (1586-)
    • Problematic attributions
    • Readings from Alexandra Gillespie, Print Culture and the Medieval Author: Chaucer, Lydgate and their Books, 1473-1557. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006; and Theresa Krier, ed. Refiguring Chaucer in the Renaissance. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1998.

Week 12

  • Modernizations of medieval poetry: Fiston's of Caxton (1596-1617); Anon., The Life and Death of Hector (1614); Browne's of Hoccleve (1614); Sidnam's of Chaucer (c.1630) [extracts]


Week 13

  • Popular ballads; the form's indebtedness to medieval sources. Drayton's 'Ballad of Agincourt.'
  • Readings from Daniel Woolf, The Social Circulation of the Past: English Historical Culture 1500-1730. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003


Week 14

  • Poetic chronicles: Spenser (from The Faerie Queene), Daniel (from The Civil Wars), and Drayton (from England's Heroical Epistles and Poly-Olbion)
  • Readings from Bart van Es, Spenser's Forms of History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002)


Week 15

  • Prose chronicles: Edward Hall, Raphael Holinshed, William Camden [extracts]

Week 16

  • John Stow vs. Richard Grafton
    • Reading: Alfred Hiatt in John Stow (1525-1605) and the Making of the English Past: Studies in Early Modern Culture and the History of the Book. Ed. Ian Gadd and Alexandra Gillespie (London: British Library, 2004), 45-55.
  • Walter Ralegh, Preface to History of the World (1614)

Week 17

  • Debates over historicity
    • Caxton's Malory; Lord Berners' Arthur of Lytel Brytayne [Grey 400-5]; John Leland, Assertio Inclytissimi Arturii Regis Britannie, tr. R. Robinson, EETS 165
    • Readings: J. P. Carley, 'Polydore Vergil and John Leland on King Arthur: the Battle of the Books,' in King Arthur: A Casebook, ed. E. D. Kennedy (1996), 185-204; and J. M. Levine, Humanism and History: Origins of Modern English Historiography (1987), esp. 79-82.


Week 18

  • Shakespeare's Chaucer
    • Troilus and Cressida and Two Noble Kinsmen; as introduced by John Gower (extracted from Pericles)

Week 19

  • History plays and modern politics
    • Richard II and the Essex rebellion: a case study
    • King John as proto-Protestant: John Bale and William Shakespeare's plays

Week 20

  • The Brutus myth and the Jacobean reunion of Britain
    • Geoffrey of Monmouth, Polydore Vergil, Richard Verstegan, William Camden, John Speed, and Anthony Munday (Triumphs of a Reunited Britannia, 1605)

Week 21

  • READING BREAK, no class


Week 22

  • Hagiography and Martyrology
    • excerpts from John Foxe's Book of Martrys
    • other texts TBA

Research essay due

Week 23

  • Lives of the Poets
    • Excerpts from Kevin Pask, The Emergence of the English Author: Scripting the Life of the Poet in Early Modern England (Cambridge University Press, 1996)
  • Lives of the Infamous
    • The Mirror for Magistrates: its origins in Lydgate's Fall of Princes; also Lord Berners' Golden Boke of Marcus Aurelius [Grey 405-6]; also Hoccleve's Regement of Princes


Week 24

  • Paul Stevens, "England in Moghul India: Historicizing Cultural Difference and its Discontents." In Imperialisms: Historical and Literary Investigations, 1500-1900. Ed. Balachandra Rajan and Elizabeth Sauer (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)

Week 25

  • Readings TBA


Week 26

  • John Dryden, Fables Ancient and Modern [Chaucer translations]
  • David Matthews, ed. The Invention of Middle English: An Anthology of Primary Sources (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2000)

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