English 115 - Fall, 2021

Topics in 16th & 17th Century Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Werth, Tiffany Jo
Time: MWF 12:10-1:00
Location: 146 Olson
GE Areas: World Cultures Writing Experience


Literature and Alchemy

The seventeenth-century was an exciting time to live. One dynasty died out (the Tudors) and another was beheaded (the Stuart); religious reform sparked civil war that pitted fathers against daughters, neighbors against neighbors; scientific speculation refigured nature; the very fabric of knowledge and being—matter and its elements—was split open to new interpretation. In short, all was, as Donne famously remarks, called “into doubt.” This course aims to study the creative energies such turmoil unleashed. Our controlling metaphor will be the form of knowledge known as alchemy, a discipline which aims to transform not only base metals into gold but to figure the spiritual and psychological transformation of the individual. Its principal esoteric and religious symbolism enriches culturally important topics as diverse as early modern eroticism, natural philosophy, early science, spiritual elevation, technological experimentation, and, of course, the poetic imagination.

We will study selected works of seventeenth-century poetry and/or prose, with a particular attention to close reading (literary devices and themes) and range from the metaphysical poems of John Donne to the ‘atomic’ poems of Margaret Cavendish.


5% Lecture Attendance

10% Reading Quizzes (6 quizzes; lowest score dropped)

10% Transmutation Lab

20% Close Reading Paper (3-4 pp, 12 pt. times new roman font, double spaced, no secondary research)

30% Critical Research Essay (7-8 pp, may build off first essay, 12 pt. times new roman font, double spaced, 2-3 peer-reviewed sources, MLA format)

25% Final Exam (2 hours, closed book)


Seventeenth-Century British Poetry 1603-1660, Ed. Rumrich and Chaplin