English 201A

Topics in the Structure of the English Language: Meter

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2022 Hanson, Kristin
TuTh 5-6:30 Wheeler 306

Book List

Booth (ed), Stephen : Shakespeare's Sonnets

Other Readings and Media

For primary texts, the one required book will be Booth's edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets above.  Other poems we’ll look at together will be made available on bCourses.  For students’ own projects, good print editions of the relevant texts will be needed.

For secondary texts, we’ll start with my own  “An Art that Nature Makes”:  A Linguistic Perspective on a Meter in English, which will be made available on bCourses.   Other readings will also be made available on bCourses as they come up.


            This course offers an introduction to meter from the perspective of theoretical linguistics.  Fundamental to this approach is the assumption that any meter is shaped, sometimes consciously and sometimes not, not only by the meter’s own language(s), but also by the human mind’s capacity for language in general, particularly as it pertains to rhythm.

            We will begin by considering what is probably the most influential and thoroughly studied meter in modern English, the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, formalizing its constraints on syllables, stress, and phrasing, its range of variation, and its artistic possibilities.  From there, depending on students’ interests, we will turn to some of its predecessors in French, Italian, Old English and Latin, and to some of its companions and successors in modern English, such as looser forms of iambic pentameter (including some of Shakespeare in other genres), and so-called “strong-stress” meters such as the influential and challenging “Sprung Rhythm” of Hopkins.   Finally, if time permits, we will consider some aspects of how meter in poetry is like and unlike rhythmic forms in music. 

            Throughout, the focus will be on helping students conceptualize and contextualize meter(s) of poet(s) they themselves are studying.  A sequence of assignments designed to support that will be the principal requirement of the course, leading to a short final paper. 

            No prior training in linguistics or metrics is required.  

Back to Semester List