English R1B

Reading and Composition: The Renaissance Sonnet and Epigram

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2015 Villagrana, José
MWF 9-10 225 Wheeler

Book List

Graff and Birkenstein: "They Say / I Say": The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing; Rumrich and Chaplin, eds.: Seventeenth-Century British Poetry, 1603-1660; Shakespeare, William: The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems

Other Readings and Media

Additional materials will be posted on bCourses.


When we think of Renaissance poetry, we think of love. There's more to that story, though. This class will examine two poetic forms that enjoyed immense popularity in the English Renaissance. First, the sonnet (It. ‘a little sound/song’) is a work of introspection and individual expression, but it also can address another person – it can delight, instruct, lament, and plead. A sonnet can stand on its own or be read, in a larger sequence, as part of a dramatic narrative. The epigram (Gk. ‘inscription’) is defined by its brevity. It amuses with wit and delivers satiric jabs. But the imagination of an epigram often surprises, outgrowing its few lines.

Taken together, our readings and research will raise questions about humiliation, deceit, conceit, performance, belief, and much more. How can a poem seem to be mired in tired clichés and yet simultaneously rich in singular fancies and wit? How do emblems, images, and symbols intersect with poetic art? We will consider problems of faith, sexuality, and political anxiety to enrich our understanding of often familiar poems.

The purpose of this course is to develop critical reading, writing, and research skills in a way that is applicable across disciplines. In-class participation will play an important role in developing your critical thinking skills, and we will discuss approaches to crafting prose that is argumentative, clear, and nuanced. As part of the university’s Reading and Composition program, this research-focused course will guide students through the acquisition and evaluation of secondary sources and their incorporation into argumentative essays. The primary writing assignments for the course will be three progressively longer papers (2-3 pages, 6-8 pages, 8-10 pages), combining analysis of primary texts with research from secondary sources. Strategies for revision will form another major focus of the course, and the second and third papers will include substantial work (and feedback) at the prewriting and draft stages of composition.

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