Medieval and Renaissance Culture

david wilson-okamura / english 26-01 / autumn 2001 / macalester college

A survey of European art and thought from Beowulf to Paradise Lost, this course will explore the relationship between intellectual movements (e.g., the Reformation) and period styles in painting and literature (e.g., mannerism and the baroque). In the process, we will look at a broad variety of writings and images, including works by Dante, Petrarch, and Chaucer; Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton; Luther, Burckhardt, and Huizinga; Jan van Eyck, Hieronymous Bosch, and Michelangelo; along with the portraits of Elizabeth I.

Sept. 5 W Introduction
7 F "The Battle of Maldon" (ER); Tolkien, "Byrhtnoth's Homecoming" (ER)
10 M Beowulf
12 W Beowulf
14 F Beowulf
17 M "The Corpus Christi Carol" (photocopy); Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
19 W Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
21 F Dante, Inferno 1-2 (introduction), 3 (gates of hell), 4 (limbo)
24 M Inf. 5 (Lustful), 15 (Sodomites), 26 (Ulysses)
26 W Inf. 32-34 (Traitors); Purgatorio 1-3 (introduction), 10-12 (pride; poets)
28 F Purg. 21-22 (Statius), 26-27 (terrace of lust; Virgil's farewell); 28, 30-31 (terrestrial paradise; Beatrice)
Oct. 1 M Chaucer, General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales
3 W Knight's Tale
5 F Miller's Tale
8 M Petrarch, "Letter to Posterity" and "The Ascent of Mount Ventoux"


First paper due; Petrarch, Canzoniere: part 1, before Laura's death (pp. 21-59)
12 F Petrarch, Canzoniere: part 2, after Laura's death (pp. 60-77)
15 M Vasari, Lives, prefaces to parts 1, 2, 3 (= pp. 3-6, 47-58, 277-84); lives of Giotto and Donatello
17 W Vasari, lives of Fillipo Brunelleschi and Leonardo da Vinci
19 F Vasari, life of Michelangelo
22 M Huizinga, "Image and Word" (ER)
24 W Burckhardt, Civilization, part 1: "The State as a Work of Art" (WEB)


Fall Midterm Break
29 M Herlihy, The Black Death and the Transformation of the West, ch. 2 (ER)
31 W Foxe, Martyrs, chs. 7-9 (Wycliffe, Huss, Luther), 12 (Tyndale); Luther, "Two Kinds of Righteousness" (both on WEB)
Nov. 2 F Huizinga, "The Problem of the Renaissance" (ER)
5 M Vasari, life of Pontormo; Pontormo's letter to Benedetto Varchi (ER)


Second paper due; Jardine, "Strains of Renaissance Reading" (ER); see also Holbein, "The Ambassadors" (WEB)
9 F Spenser, letter to Ralegh and Faerie Queene (FQ) 1.1-2 (= book one, cantos 1 through 2); see also plot outline (WEB)
12 M FQ 1.3-4. RC wounds Sans-joy, but Duessa cures him with black magic! Continue: FQ 1.5.45-53
14 W FQ 1.6-8
16 F FQ 1.9-10
19 M FQ, 1.11-12
21 W Portraits of Queen Elizabeth; read Forster, "Political Petrarchism of the Virgin Q." (ER)


Thanksgiving Friday
26 M Wyatt, "Whoso list to hunt"; Spenser, Amoretti 12, 14, 15, 16, 30, 67, 68; Epithalamion
28 W Shakespeare, The Tempest
30 F Strachey and Montaigne on America (appendices B and D in Orgel's Tempest ed.)
Dec. 3 M Milton, Paradise Lost 1, 2 (= books 1 and 2: Satan and the fallen angels; hell)
5 W Milton, PL 3 (God; heaven)
7 F Milton, PL 4 (Eden); 5.377-512 (Adam and Eve discuss their destiny with the angel Raphael); 8.249-653 (Adam's description of his own creation, his first encounter with Eve, and the angel's final warning)
10 M Sypher, "Baroque" (ER)
12 W Milton, PL 9 (The fall)


Third paper due; Pope, "Eloisa to Abelard," selections from the Essay on Man (ER)


Hard copies of all assignments are due at the beginning of the class period. Assignments delivered after that will receive a lower grade. (For instance, an A- essay that is delivered up to 24 hours late will receive a B+, an A- essay that is delivered between 24 and 48 hours late will receive a B, and so on.)

Essays (90%). Over the course of the semester you will submit three essays of 1,800-2,000 words each on poems or plays of your choice.

Final exam (10%). The final exam will be brief, consisting of passages to identify by author, work, and date (± 10 years).

Attendance and Reading. There is one more requirement for this course: you have to come to class and you have to do the reading. If you don't, you'll get a no credit (nc) for the semester, even if you hand in all of the graded assignments. Not coming to class = missing nine or more class meetings. Not doing the reading = failing three or more random reading quizzes.

Email. Announcements and changes to the syllabus will be delivered by email; you will therefore need to check this regularly.


Everyone gets a two-day extension on one paper over the course of the semester. You choose which one. You don't need to ask me ahead of time: just hand in a sheet of paper with the date and your name on it that says "I'm taking my extension on this paper." In the interest of fairness, however, no one will be granted a second extension.


Plagiarism is using someone else's words or ideas in such a way that a reader cannot distinguish them from your own work. As such, it is a form of cheating. If you have questions about plagiarism, please ask me about it before your paper is due; after a paper is handed in it's too late to claim ignorance. This is important: the standard penalty for a first cheating offense at Macalester College is an F on the assignment. A word to the wise: if you're going to plagiarize, don't use the internet; chances are, if you can find it, so can I.

important times, phone numbers, addresses

Office: Old Main 205 (phone 651.696.6643)

Office hours: mwf 1:20-2:20. Extra hours as needed and by appointment. If you'd like to schedule an appointment—and I encourage you to do so if these hours don't work for you—do not email me; just grab me after class or give me a phone call and we'll set up a time. If you call my office and I'm not there, do try me at home, though not after 9:00 pm, please; the phone number there is 651.699.3577.

Email discussion address for this course:
Course materials on the web:

reference These items can be found online or in the reference section on the first floor of the library.

Cambridge History of English and American Literature, The. 18 vols. New York: Putnam, 1907-1921. Online:

Catholic Encyclopedia, The. 15 vols. New York: Encyclopedia Press, 1913. Online:

Cross, F. L., and E. A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 2nd ed. London: Oxford UP, 1974. BR95.O8.1974.

Dictionary of Literary Biography [abbreviated as DLB]. Detroit: Bruccoli Clark-Gale Research, 1978-. PS221.D5. For 16C poets, see vols. 132, 136, 167, and 172. For 17C poets, see vols. 121, 126, and 131. For Elizabethan dramatists, see vol. 62. For 17C dramatists, see vols. 58, 80, 84, and 89.

Green, Jonathan. The Cassell Dictionary of Slang. London: Cassell, 1998. PE3721.G74.1998.

Grendler, Paul F., ed. Encyclopedia of the Renaissance. 6 vols. New York, Scribner's, 1999. CB361.E52.1999.

Hamilton, A. C., gen. ed. The Spenser Encyclopedia. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1990. PR2362.S65.1990.

Harner, James L. Literary Research Guide: An Annotated Listing of Reference Sources in English Literary Studies. 3rd ed. New York: MLA, 1998. Z2011.H34.1998.

Langer, William L. An Encyclopedia of World History. 5th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972. D21.L27.1972.

MLA International Bibliography. New York: Modern Language Association, 1967-.

Oxford English Dictionary, The [abbreviated as OED]. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1989. PE1625.O87.1989. Online:

Preminger, Alex, and T. V. F. Brogan, eds. The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993. PN1021.N39.1993.

Stephen, Sir Leslie, and Sir Sidney Lee, eds. The Dictionary of National Biography [abbreviated as DNB]. 24 vols. plus supplements. London: Oxford UP, 1921-. DA28.D48.

Strayer, Joseph R., ed. Dictionary of the Middle Ages. 13 vols. New York: Scribner, 1982-1989. D114.D5.1982.

Szarmach, Paul E., et al., eds. Medieval England: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1998. DA129.M43.1998.


Lewis, C. S. The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964. PN671.L39.