English 460
Fall, 2005
J. Fitzmaurice


 Senior Seminar in Literary History

Course Description
We will consider the notion of literary history and various schemes of periodization by examining closely the reception history of three authors from the seventeenth century: William Shakespeare, John Donne, and Margaret Cavendish. Their value as writers and the importance of individual works by each has risen or fallen in various periods according to contemporary literary taste, social climate, political environment, and the like. Donne's poetry, for instance, was enormously influential during his own lifetime, became unfashionable during the 18th century, and went on to be dear to the hearts of modernists like TS Eliot. While we will pay special attention to the reception history of Hamlet, we will also look at Shakespeare's reception more broadly. In addition to looking at background material like Montaigne's remarks on suicide, we will consider adaptations, stagings, and film versions of Shakespeare's plays.  We will do a good deal of reading aloud in class.
Required Work

A. Three brief critical writings (one page each). Due Wednesdays in the second, third, and fourth weeks of class. These are "warm up" exercises designed less to evaluate students than to give them an indication of what sort of writing is expected. Nevertheless, the writings will be graded and, together, they will be worth 15% of the course grade.

B. A proposal for the term paper. Due Friday of the fifth week of classes. Limit yourself to one page. Worth 10% of the grade for the course. You will be allowed to change your term paper topic if what you choose at this stage proves unworkable later, but you must demonstrate that you are actively pursuing a reasonable topic in a serious way.

C. A progress report and annotated bibliography on the term paper research. Due Friday in week eight of classes. Limit yourself to four pages. Worth 15% of the grade for the course. The progress report may take the form of an outline or a sample from the term paper, say, the introduction. Or, you may want to simply describe the work you have performed so far on the paper. (If you have not done much work, this lack will be reflected in your grade.) I will pass out a sample annotated bibliography after we have gotten past the stage of paper proposals.

D. The term paper (eight to ten pages). Due Friday two weeks before finals. I will accept a first draft two weeks before the due date on the paper and will offer advice for improvement.   Please note: I absolutely will not accept a paper that is made up entirely of someone else's thinking, which is to say: do not simply go to the library and weave together the ideas of other people as found in scholarly books and articles. You may cite secondary sources but the paper must be substantially your own. You may do an edition of a piece of early prose in place of the usual term paper, if you so desire. The term paper will be worth 40% of the grade for the course.

E. Final exam. This will be a take-home exam due at the time of the final. It will require that you write two pages each on two topics to be chosen from a list of five questions. You should not use material from your term paper on the final exam. The final will be worth 20% of the grade for the course.


The evaluation of students in the course is organized around a substantial research paper. The paper should not prove an insurmountable chore to those who begin early and ask for guidance as they go along. Workshopping at various stages will help with a variety of problems.

Attendance, Term Paper Policy, Etc.

You would be well advised to come to every class. If you miss many classes, you will end up losing control of the term paper and will fail the course. I absolutely WILL NOT accept a term paper that has not gone through the process of a proposal and a progress report according to the schedule outlined in this syllabus. Occasionally we will want to discuss what is called "charged" material in order to more fully understand literary history. I will try to handle such material so as not to cause anyone to become uncomfortable. If there is a problem in this regard, let me know.


Cavendish, Margaret.  Sociable Letters, Broadview.  2004.
Donne, John. John Donne's Poetry. Second Edition. Norton Critical Edition. Norton. 1992.
Shakespeare, Hamlet. Longman Cultural Edition.

Schedule (some selections may be added or changed)
Love, Courtship, and Marriage

Week 1  Mon, Aug 29   Introduction to the course. The Dating Game, Version 1.  Cavendish's letter about three young women who decide to not marry (p. 49) and her letter to her sister Ann warning against marriage (p. 272). Donne's poems "The Sun Rising" ( p. 6) and "Song [Go Catch a Falling Star]" (p. 3).   . 

Week 2  Mon, Sept 5.  Labor Day.  Holiday.   Brief critical writing due Wed.  Aphra Behn's letter to her unfaithful lover, John Hoyle (Letter 1 on p. 319 in Cavendish).  Angel Day's comic letter to a man who lost his wife (Letter 3 on p. 326 in Cavendish).   Hamlet (I, iii): Laertes and Polonius to Ophelia on her love life (pp. 20 - 25).  Hamlet film clips:  Branagh, Hawke, and Gibson.  Workshop paper topics.   

Week 3   Mon  Sept 12  Brief critical writing due Wed. Ben Jonson and John Dryden on what is wrong with Donne's poetry (pp. 139142 in Donne).  William Cavendish's love poem to Margaret Cavendish, written when the Queen opposed their intended marriage "Love's Consideration of His Mistress' Picture (p. 302 in Cavendish).    

Week 4  Mon  Sept 19.  Brief critical writing due Wed.  Critical assessments of Cavendish (sometimes called "Mad Madge") as a person and as a writer: handouts taken from Virginia Woolf and others.  Hamlet in performances as found in fiction:  Fielding (p. 236), Dickens ( p. 249), Clemens (p. 252).  Workshop paper topics.

Week 5  Mon  Sept 26  Term paper proposal due Wed.   Bacon, "Of Marriage and the Single Life" (p. 327).  Hamlet (III, i): The "Nunnery" scene, Hamlet (pp. 64 - 67).  Film clips from Ethan Hawke and Gibson.  Donne's "The Canonization" (p. 8), "The Autumnal" (p.65).  Marriage across boundaries of class: an aristocratic man who married a kitchen maid (Cavendish, Letter 42, p. 93).   New wives and the desire for children (Cavendish Letter 47, p. 97).

Political Power, War, and Resistance

Week 6  Mon Oct 3.   The Dating Game, Version 2.   Hamlet (IV, v): Claudius dissuades Laertes from rebellion and enlists him against Hamlet (pp. 108 - 110).  The return of the topic of kingship in Hamlet to the stage: Clips of Fortinbras in Branagh's Hamlet.  Many versions have cut Fortinbras from the script.  Workshop paper topics.

Week 7  Mon Oct 10.  Donne's "The Storm" and "The Calm" (pp. 84 - 87) on the ingloriousness of war.  The language of nationalism and imperialism in Donne's "To His Mistress going to Bed" (p. 61).  Caliban and postcolonial interpretations of Shakespeare.  Film clips of Peter Fonda's Tempest: Prospero and "cultural diversity" in the 1990s.

Week 8  Mon Oct 17.   Progress report and annotated bibliography due.    The continuing fall and eventual rise of a literary reputation: Dr. Samuel Johnson, TS Eliot and others on John Donne (pp. 142 and 165 in Donne). "New criticism" and the metaphysicals generally.  Cavendish on winners and losers in war (Letter 120, pp. 174 - 175). 

Week 9  Mon Oct 24. Twentieth-century adaptations of Shakespeare: Handouts of Auden's Sea and the Mirror, Eliot's "Marina."  Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as Romeo and Juliet and films of street crime and urban violence in the 1990s.  Workshop term paper first drafts.

Week 10  Mon Oct 31.  Cavendish on women as policy makers in war (Letter 9, p. 53)  Clips from Branagh's Henry V.

Heroism, Madness, Death
Week 11  Mon  Nov 7.  Term paper -- optional first draft due.  Dating Game, version 3.    Hamlet on suicide (p. 63 - 64).  Montaigne, Sym, and Donne on suicide as related to Hamlet and Ophelia (pp. 212 - 219).

Week 12  Mon  Nov 14.   Cavendish on the suicide of Lucretia (p.105).   Video clips from Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and from Branagh's Hamlet.  Death and the absurdists.  Donne: "Death Be Not Proud" (p. 114).  Workshop term paper in it final stages

Week 13  Mon  Nov 21.   Term paper due.  Thanksgiving Week.  Holiday Friday.  Shakespeare and the flawed Romantic hero: Goethe on Hamlet (handout). Later connections: the Freudian view of literature, the Oedipus complex and the symptoms of neurosis.  Clips of Olivier's Hamlet.  Clips of Gibson's Hamlet (madness as fury rather than introversion or withdrawal).  Neurosis and marriage in the 1970s: clips from the John Cassavettes Tempest.  Donne's mixing of love and the imagery of death "The Funeral" (p. 35) and "The Relic" (p. 37).

Week 14  Mon  Nov 28.    Donne on his own death: "Hymn to God in My Sickness" (p. 128), "Hymn to God the Father" (p. 129). Actors and acting styles in the 1990s. The death of a villain: Clips from Al Pacnio's Looking for Richard and Ian McKellan's Richard III.

Week 15  Mon Dec 5.  Wrap Up.

Week 16 Mon Dec 12.  Final Exam due at the time of the final.