English 232 - Spring, 2018

Problems in English Literature

    Topic: Renaissance Oecologies from More to Milton

Class Information

Instructor: Werth, Tiffany
CRN: 62007
Time: T 3:10-6:00
Location: 120 Voorhies
Breadth: Earlier British
Focus: Genre, Interdiscipline, Method


    Course Description:

    The invention of the printing press and the publication of William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament in 1526 changed how the English understood and interacted with the world around them. As religious doctrine splintered into competing truth claims, observation of the natural world, what Brian Ogilvie calls a “culture of describing,” gained momentum. The term “nature” and the human relationship to the non/human realms of animal, vegetable, and mineral as well as that of the supernatural realm (gods, demons, angels, saints) came under scrutiny. This course explores how the three forces of an emergent technology (print), church reform, and the “new philosophy” would redefine the early modern human engagement with his/her environment. Viewing the Renaissance as a key moment in the long history of environmental narratives, the course aims to consider how seemingly recent concerns about the Anthropocene may have roots reaching back to the world of Renaissance literature.

    Situated within the ongoing UC Davis / Simon Fraser University / University of British Columbia Oecologies’ research collective (www.oecologies.com), this course will introduce students to early modern English literature at a graduate level as well as encourage students to engage with the provocative ways in which premodern culture imagined its interpellation with the creaturely and non/human world.

    Course Outline:

    Our course begins with our medium of contact between then and there (Renaissance England) and here and now (West Coast, North America, 21st Century): the printed text usually experienced as a modern critical edition or even ebook. Our exploration starts by deconstructing our modern notions of “book.” Helped along by Lucas Erne’s Shakespeare’s Modern Collaborators students will have the option to edit a selected passage from one early modern text. Through this exploration, we will raise questions about how the book itself might be an ecological agent, enmeshed within a network of social and material entities.

    From the material conduit of the book we next turn to a consideration of how early modern texts raise questions pertinent to today’s environmental concerns. We will consider theories of ontology—such as what makes a being, is matter stable or metamorphic, where are the boundaries between the human and non/human, and what determines humans’ relationship to their environs? In our reading, we will explore some of the seminal texts of Renaissance literature—including various translation of the Bible, Pico Della Mirandola’s theory of humankind, the alchemical formula for the Philosopher’s Stone, Sir Thomas More’s vision of Utopia, the poetry of Amelia Lanyer, Hester Pulter, and Margaret Cavendish as well as selections from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and John Milton’s Paradise Lost and one of Shakespeare late plays—alongside contemporary approaches such as posthumanism, new materialism, ecocriticism, and environmental history.


    Course Assignments:

    Active Seminar Engagement and Participation (5%):

    Literature Review and Discussion Moderation (15%): Rolling deadline. Each seminar member will write a formal article review of 500 words of one secondary reading chosen from the syllabus list. S/he will then be responsible for opening and facilitating the discussion (a good guide is to have at least 2 or 3 discussion questions prepared in advance) for that reading on the given day, using the secondary research reading as a springboard for discussion of primary texts.

    Edition or Essay proposal and preliminary annotated bibliography (6-9 critical sources) (5%):

    Option 1: Selected Critical Edition of a Shakespearean Scene or other text (75% including paratextual apparatus and brief 10-12 pp. double-spaced introduction): Students will produce a critical edition (inclusive of brief introduction, editorial rationale, edited text, emendations, gloss and notes) of a selected passage from an early modern text of their choice pertinent to the course concerns. The edition’s format should bear in mind an environmentally conscious audience. It may be presented in print or digital format. May be playfully influenced by Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books.

    Option 2: Seminar Paper (75% 12-15 pages double-spaced plus notes and bibliography)


    Paradise Lost, Milton, John
    Utopia, More, Thomas.
    The Faerie Queene, Spenser, Edmund
    The Tempest, Shakespeare, William