Department of English

University of Toronto

ENG448H1S L0101

ENG448H1S L0101 M1-3
Advanced Studies Group 4: Of Sheperds and Songs: Pastoral Literature in the English Renaissance
Instructor: J. Espie

Office Location: TBA
Email: TBA

Brief Description of Course: In 1579, the reading public of Elizabethan England encountered a little book with a massive ambition—a book that brashly championed its author as a worthy successor to the literary giants, Virgil and Chaucer, and that confidently presumed to instruct an entire nation in its political policies and moral priorities. For all this book’s lofty designs, however, the events narrated in it involve a surprisingly modest setting and surprisingly modest personages: its action takes place not in an elegant palace or on a glorious battlefield, but in the unadorned rural countryside, and it features not distinguished courtiers or heroic warriors, but uncouth shepherds. This paradoxical book is The Shepheardes Calender, a collection of twelve heavily-annotated poems that inaugurated not only the literary career of its emergent author, Edmund Spenser, but also a vibrant tradition of pastoral literature—literature about shepherds and their rural environs—that persisted throughout the English Renaissance. For Spenser, as for his contemporaries and successors, pastoral literature afforded a means to represent and covertly critique the dominant political and theological institutions of their epoch; to revive and reconstruct the classical past, a past most influentially encapsulated by Virgil’s Eclogues; to construct and deconstruct oppositions between the country and the court and between the shepherd and the gentleman; and to complement and complicate the conventions of romantic and epic literature.

Our course meetings are designed to elucidate this pastoral tradition, paying particular attention to the historical, literary-historical, spatial and generic implications attendant on it. To do so, we will use a combination of lectures from the instructor, presentations from the students, and discussions among our group to undertake detailed case-studies of six Renaissance works which strategically deploy the pastoral mode: Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender and Faerie Queene VI, Sidney’s Old Arcadia, Shakespeare’s As You Like It and The Winter’s Tale, and Milton’s Lycidas. Focusing on the pastoral tradition will offer both a general framework under which these diverse works can be linked, and a specific lens through which to examine significant literary themes, such as the tension between social classes, the connection between the past and the present, and the importance of authorial self-presentation. In scrutinizing these themes, we will also consider how a work’s pastoral design is connected to the particular form—rhymed couplet, sestina, Spenserian stanza, prose, play, irregular rhyme, ottava rima—in which an author operates, and to the linguistic and rhetorical devices that this author employs. Students may thus expect to learn not only how to discuss the political and literary-historical potential that pastoral possesses, but also how to analyze the formal and aesthetic techniques through which this potential is transmitted.

First Three Authors/Texts: Milton, Lycidas; Virgil, Eclogues; Spenser, Shepheardes Calender.

Method of Evaluation: Reading Responses (15%); Essay Proposal (10%); Class Participation (15%); Oral Presentation (25%); Final Essay (35%).

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