English 246C: Graduate Proseminars: Sixteenth Century: the End of Scholarism

Instructor: Professor David Landreth

This course fulfills the elective requirement for the DE in REMS.

“Lately two gentlemen poets… had it in derision, for that I could not make my verses jet upon the stage in tragical buskins, every word filling the mouth like the faburden of Bow Bell, daring God out of heaven with that atheist Tamburlaine, or blaspheming with the mad priest of the sun; but let me rather openly pocket up the ass… than wantonly set out such impious instances of intolerable poetry, such mad and scoffing poets, that have prophetical spirits as [if] bred of Merlin’s race. If there be any in England that set the end of scholarism in an English blank verse, I think either it is the humour of a novice that tickles them with self-love, or too much frequenting the hot-house hath sweat out the greatest part of their wits.” (Robert Greene, lamenting the explosive debut of rival playwright Christopher Marlowe.)

What are the language arts for? What can they do? What are the proper bounds, and what the possible scope, of human reason, rhetoric, or invention? The advent of humanism in English universities and schools converged with the formation of the Tudor state, and offered high hopes for the place of learning in the new polity. Those hopes were dashed over the course of the following decades of upheaval, even as the objects of learning–the scope of the present world, the legacy of the past, the future of the soul–became perilously unstable. We’ll be examining the despairing frustration and the glamorous peril of the writing life in sixteenth-century English: so we will start with “the end of scholarism” as Greene ironically locates it, in the detonating force of the lines Marlowe gives his nihilist world-beater Tamburlaine, and move from there to define the individual ingredients of sixteenth-century culture and thought from which Marlowe concocts his explosive mixture. We’ll put particular emphasis on Utopia, Golding’s translation of Metamorphoses, and Book Three of The Faerie Queene.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes