17th Century Women Poets
The following is just a short introduction to the courses contents. A detailed list of set texts will be available at the beginning of the semester.
- First things first: I do not expect any participant of this course to know anything about 17th century history and literature, much less about 17th century women poets. The course is designed to provide just that: a comprehensive introduction to one of the most exciting epochs in English history and literature. Exciting? Well, yes. Just a few keywords to back up that claim. This is the age were the British beheaded their king, fought a Civil War (or several), allowed a military dictatorship (called Protectorate), called back their king (not the beheaded one, but his son), restored the monarchy, didnt like it, got rid of the king (this time in a more civilized manner), and invited a new ruler to their country. This is also the age of Shakespeare, Johnson, Donne, and Milton. And this is an age of unprecedented female creativity: The age of Mary Wroth, Aemilia Lanyer, Aphra Behn and many others. Hopefully, at the end of the semester you will be familiar with their names and achievements. And on friendlier terms with the 17th century... All that is needed - and something is needed, after all - is a willingness to read 17th century poetry and prose (which might be difficult to understand in the beginning) and 20th century literary criticism (which also might be difficult to understand in the beginning - but the more you read the easier it will become). And a willingness to discuss what you have read - even if you do not completely understand it and in order to completely understand it.
- We start by revising our knowledge about poetry and poetry analysis. J. Stallworthys "Essay on Versification" from the Norton Anthology of Poetry and B. Korte / Manfred Jahns Minima Rhetorica will provide the basic terminology and knowledge that we will apply immediately by analyzing sonnets by Mary Wroth and Philip Sidney...
- Next, we have a closer look at images of women in 17th century art and public discourse. Why is it that the "womans part" on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage differs so markedly from "real life"? To find out about these incongruencies we will look at the way women are portrayed in contemporary plays as well as historical evidence of womens role in 17th century society. Among the set texts will be Elaine Hobbys "The Politics of Gender" from The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry: Donne to Marvell and an excerpt from Virginia Woolfs A Room of Ones Own.
- The Renaissance querelle the femmes or "women controversy" provides some insight into contemporary fears about women. Since women did not remain silent in this controversy, we will have a look at their own defenses of their sex. Primary sources during this part of the course will include selections from contemporary polemical writings, excerpts from Rachel Speghts dream vision poem "The Dreame" and Aemilia Lanyers Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.
- We will then turn to love poetry by women. Does women writers treatment of this theme differ profoundly from mens? Can we perceive changes as regards content and form from the poetry of Mary Wroth writing at the beginning of the century to the poetry written after the Restoration by poets like Behn, Philips and Killigrew? During this part of the course we will read and discuss selected poems by Mary Wroth, "Ephelia", Katherine Philips, Anne Killigrew, and Aphra Behn.
- The importance of religion in 17th century history and art cannot be underestimated. Ones religious views could profoundly change or influence ones life. This is true for both men and women. In this part of the course, therefore, we focus on religous poetry. What are the consequences of holding on to a particular religious creed? Did it matter whether you were baptized a Catholic or a Protestant? What exactly is (or was) a Puritan? Did religion restrict women or did it have a liberating effect? How do women poets respond to the religious challenges of their time? Reading selections of poetry by Aemilia Lanyer, "Eliza" An Collins, and Elizabeth Major might help to answer some of these questions. By way of comparison we will also have a look at the religious poetry of George Herbert and John Donne.
- During the remaining classes we turn to poetry that deals with themes other than love or religion. Our main focus here will be the poetry of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle but we will also read selected poems by lesser known writers such as Mary Carey, Bathsua Makin or Anne Wharton.
17th Century Women Poets
Susanne Webel (May 5, 1998)