Studies in 16th & 17thC Lit: Renaissance Imperial Epic

The great works you will be reading in this course are impressive monuments of Western culture.  They also employ and sometimes question an ideological demonology and proto-colonialist quest narrative that we have come to inherit without being aware of it until events like September 11 and its continuing aftermath jolt us into recognition.  Therefore, although our primary focus will be literary features of the Renaissance epic, we will also be looking at the historical, political, and cultural truths and distortions to which they respond and contribute.

We begin with a complete reading of Vergil’s AENEID, the most influential work of Western literature, and proceed to look at significant excerpts from subsequent works that deliberately supplement, transcend, or quarrel with the national Roman epic of historical tragedy and historical triumph:  Ariosto’s ORLANDO FURIOSO (1532), Camoens’s  THE LUSIADS (1572), Tasso’s JERUSALEM DELIVERED (1575), Spenser’s the FAERIE QUEENE(1596), and Milton’s PARADISE LOST(1667) and PARADISE REGAINED 1671).  We will come to intimately understand and appreciate epic literary conventions, but we will also come to learn much about war, violent religious controversy, ethics, politics, and gender roles: women are enormously important in all but the last of these works, usually as threats to the imperial mission but also as its catalyst, participant, or inspiration.

You will be writing a brief comparison paper on some feature of the AENEID that is rewritten in a later epic; posting regularly to laulima and revising six of your posts as mini-essays, and producing a final research paper on one or more of the post-Vergilian epics.


Attendance and participation (10%)

Aeneid comparison paper (20%)

Posts and electronic porfolio (30%)

Research paper (30%)

Final exam (10%)


Vergil, The Aeneid

Ariosto, Orlando Furioso

Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered

Camoens, The Lusiads

Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Books 1, 2, and 3

Milton, Paradise Lostand Paradise Regained

This course studies chronologically a variety of Shakespeare’s plays in all genres, some of which have been given memorable cinematic (or even operatic) treatments subsequently. It will enable you to perceptively read and enjoy productions of these works. Video excerpts will be interspersed with lectures and group and classwide discussions. You will be responsible for some digital responses to the plays, a comparison of two video/film versions of the play, a longer             essay comparing two plays, mid-term exam, and final.  By the end of the course, we should all appreciate more fully the ways in which, as Ben Jonson wrote in 1616, Shakespeare’s works were “not for an age / but for all time,” even as we recognize how these plays reflect the values, preoccupations, and limitations of the playwright’s own moment in time.

Course requirements 

  • Attendance
  • In-class discussion participation (individual and group)
  • Electronic class discussion
  • Mid-term exam
  • Final exam
  • Comparative video analysis paper
  • Comparison of two plays

 Required texts (Bantam Shakespeares)
            Richard III

            A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream

             Romeo and Juliet

            Much Ado About Nothing

            Henry IV, Part One

            Henry V

Julius Caesar



The Tempest

Shakespeare Alive!