Course Instructor Days Times Room




Georges de la Tour, Penitent Magdalene, c. 1630-1632.

Georges de la Tour, The Penitent Magdalene, c.1630-1632.


Seventeenth-Century British Poetry

The seventeenth century in Britain encompassed revolutionary cultural shifts, from advancements in biological sciences and medicine to a preoccupation with religious devotion and a fascination with death and the dying body. The politics of independence, disobedience and sovereignty were given voice during the English civil war, while at the same time, global exploration, trade, and conquest began to define Britain as an Empire. What emerged out of this chaos, conflict and change was poetry that grappled with new philosophies. The wild and arcane imagery in the “metaphysical” conceits of John Donne and Henry Vaughan mapped out scientific and medical discoveries, and the poetry of Mary Wroth and Andrew Marvell forged a new relationship between humans and nature while reconfiguring the role of gender in lyric. The religious lyrics of George Herbert and Richard Crashaw dramatized the quest for an intimate relationship with the divine, in some cases so intimate it could be called erotic. And Milton's Paradise Lost  explored political issues of rebellion, sovereignty, and dominion--all controversial, hot-button issues facing England during the interregnum and civil war--while creating one of the first literary anti-hero  We will enhance our readings of poetry with excerpts from Renaissance texts on natural science, medicine, exploration, and religion by writers such as Francis Bacon and Thomas Browne, peruse and interpret images of visual art, book illustrations and engraved title pages, and consult critical essays on seventeenth-century culture.


1 short paper (3pp)

1 longer paper (5-10pp)

1 group curation project: in groups of five you will assemble and then present to the class your contemporary take on a seventeenth-century collection, whether this takes the form of a book (anthology, commonplace book, book of emblems, travel book) or an exhibit (cabinet of curiosities, wonder cabinet).


If you have 6 unexcused absences I will withdraw you from the course. 5 unexcused absences results in lowering your participation grade. I will excuse most absences due to illness, family issues, hardship, accidents etc. but you need to come talk to me.