ENGL 4220 Early Modern Poetry

ENGL 4220 Early Modern Poetry
Dr. Lyn Bennett
Fall 2019

Course Description:
In his 1589 The Arte of English Poesie, a rhetorical how-to for aspiring poets and courtiers, George Puttenham described poetry as “a manner of utterance more eloquent and rhetorical than the ordinary prose.” More rhetorical than ordinary prose, Puttenham argued, poetry will “sooner invegleth the judgment of man, and carrieth his opinion this way and that,” its powers of persuasion effected by “all manner of fresh colours and figures.” Fresh they need be, but those colours and figures hearken all the way back to Aristotle, the Greek rhetorician who codified the art of using language to persuade. And, as Puttenham’s words make clear, early modern poetry was as deeply rhetorical as Aristotle’s oratory, an art that aimed to persuade as much by mimetic truth as well-wrought argument. Examining the symbiosis of poetry and rhetoric in Renaissance thinking, this course begins with the Tudor poets Henry Howard and Sir Thomas Wyatt, takes up poems by later sonneteers Sir Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser, considers the verse of metaphysical poets John Donne and George Herbert as well as the plain style Ben Jonson, and considers the shorter works of John Milton, an accomplished rhetor and likely the most learned poet of his age. Attending to the women who were active and knowing participants in the rhetorical culture from which they were excluded, the course also considers the work of writers such as Anne Askew, Mary Sidney Herbert, Lady Mary Wroth, and Aemilia Lanyer. As we read poetry by authors of varying classes, decades, and genders, students are afforded the opportunity to become familiar with some key rhetorical terms and concepts, including the larger concerns of invention, imitation, and decorum, as well as the mimetic effects of figures of thought (such as metaphor and simile), figures of speech (such as repetition and rhyme), and the persuasion of rhetoric’s “artificial proofs.” The course’s aims are to deepen understanding of early modern poetry and the culture that produced it, to consider rhetoric’s abiding influence on writers of every genre, and to hone skills in close reading, critical thinking, and argument. Evaluation is based on participation as well as short writing assignments and a research paper.

Text List
- The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse 1509-1659, Ed. David Norbrook and H.R. Woudhuysen
- Plato, Gorgias and Aristotle, Rhetoric, Ed. Joe Sachs (Focus)
- Renaissance Debates on Rhetoric, Ed. and Trans. Wayne A. Rebhorn (Cornell University Press)
- Richard Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms 2nd ed. (University of California Press)