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Cultural and Literary Expression in the English Renaissance (

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At the outset of the 16th century, Europeans tended to dismiss English literature as inferior to continental literary traditions; the educated Englishman was obliged to travel to the continent and speak in other languages in order to “culture” himself. By the end of the Renaissance, however, some of the greatest works in the English language—from Shakespeare’s dramas to Thomas More’s Utopia—had been written. In this course, we will read and examine these works, situating them within their socio-historical and literary contexts, while attempting to determine how the art of English language and letters came into its own during this dynamic period.

We will begin with an overview of European history during the centuries leading up to the Renaissance in order to acquaint ourselves with the profound cultural and social changes brought about by the Italian Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, nationalism/colonialism, and the growing power of the middle class. We will then embark upon a genre study, exploring various Renaissance-era achievements in poetry, drama, and polemical writing.

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