What I Read My First Semester of Graduate School | part 1: renaissance literature edition

Hi, lovebugs!

As many of you know, I started graduate school this past January. In short, it’s been an overwhelming whirlwind of a time, but I’m so glad I ended up going back to school. I’ve come to realize that school is the only place where I feel at home. Just your typical book-loving nerd here.

Since I wasn’t able to post anything while in school, I figured the least I could do for you all would be to share all the tremendous books, plays, poems, etc. I read during my hiatus!

I hope this helps any of you who might be thinking about going to grad school, possibly switching to an English major, or just looking for some good book recs.

Every university/department/professor varies between what classes are offered and what readings are assigned, so your experience might be different from mine. Nevertheless, this info could help you or even broaden your reading horizon journey if you enjoy a certain time period or subject of literature.

I was originally going to make this one huge post including all of my classes and reading assignments, but after finishing just the Renaissance Literature portion, I figured I should give my brain a break and split my courses up into three separate posts. That way, if you’re only interested in a particular class or literature period, you don’t have to scroll endlessly to find it. Hope it helps!

Now onward to the books!

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Renaissance Literature

The Class

Renaissance Literature, also known as Early Modern Literature, was easily my favorite class of the semester. My favorite professor, who helped me discover my uncontrollable adoration for Dante’s Divine Comedy and Shakespeare, taught this class, so it was a no-brainer that I would enjoy it. He implements a lot of art history in his classes, which I love, and he’s an overall joy and wholesome mentor.

Along with the art history, we spoke a lot about Early Modern England, humanism, gender, race, and colonialism themes throughout the class. What I love most about the particular professor who taught Renaissance Literature is that he really lets the class discuss the subjects they found interesting, so we covered a wide arrange of topics and point of views that might be left out of a typical lecture class format. Because of this, my peers and I never wanted the class to end.

My class met twice a week for about an hour and fifteen minutes (we often went over time because that’s just my professor’s way lol). As for homework/assignments, we had a “reading journal” where we posted our thoughts on the text we were reading at the time, sometimes given a general prompt to follow, and it had to be minimum of 500 words. These reading journals had to be posted a few hours before class started, and they generally fueled our discussion for that day. At the end of the semester, we had a final exam that was mainly a practice for our final MA Comp Exam that all English graduate students must pass before graduation – fun fun – and a final 8 – 10 page essay. On top of that, each student picked or was assigned a day to give a 20 minute presentation on the reading for that particular day. It sounds intimidating at first, but we were able to pick any topic, theme, or subject of our choosing, and it actually ended up being pretty fun. It was great practice for future teaching, as well!

The Literature

The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Sixteenth Century and The Early Seventeenth Century (10th Ed. Vol. B)

Like many era-focused literature courses, The Norton Anthology of English Literature was the prime text that we used for readings. Personally, I love them because they hold so much info. I mean, just look at that chunky boy!

Our reading assignments included (in order they were assigned):

  • Utopia – Sir Thomas More
  • “The Long Love that in my thought doth harbor,” “Whoso List to Hunt,” “My Galley,” “They Flee From Me” – Sir Thomas Wyatt
  • “The Soote Season,” “Love, that doth Reign and Live within my Thought” – Henry Howard
  • Astrophil and Stella – Sir Philip Sidney
  • Amoretti – Sir Philip Sidney
  • Sonnets – William Shakespeare
  • “The Defense of Poesy” – Sir Philip Sidney
  • Shepheardes Calender – Edmund Spenser
  • “Speech to the Troops at Tilbury” – Queen Elizabeth I
  • The Faerie Queene, “Letter to Raleigh” – Edmund Spenser
  • Doctor Faustus – Christopher Marlowe
  • Twelfth Night – William Shakespeare
  • Othello – William Shakespeare
  • “To Penhurst,” “Song: To Celia” – Ben Jonson
  • “The Argument of His Book,” “Delight in Disorder,” “His Farewell to Sack,” “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time,” “Upon Julia’s Clothes,” “The Bad Season Makes the Poet Sad” – Robert Herrick
  • “To His Coy Mistress,” “The Garden,” “An Horation Ode” – Andrew Marvell
  • “The Flea,” “The Sun Rising,” “The Canonization,” “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” “Elegy 19: On His Mistress Going to Bed,” Holy Sonnets 5, 10, 14, Meditation 17 – John Donne
  • “The Altar,” “Easter Wings,” “The Collar,” “Love (III)” – George Herbert
  • Pamphilia to Amphilanthus – Mary Wroth
  • “To the Virtuous Reader,” “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women,” “The Description of Cookham” – Aemilia Lanyer
  • “Why Must I Thus Forever Be Confined,” “View But this Tulip” – Hester Pulter
  • Paradise Lost – John Milton

As you can see, we covered A LOT of surface area in this bad boy – primarily poetry and plays.

My personal favorites from this dense-ass list are Shakespeare’s Sonnets (I’ve written so many papers on the sonnets – I truly cannot get enough of them), Twelfth Night, Othello (can you tell I really love Shakespeare?), Aemilia Lanyer’s “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women,” and Milton’s Paradise Lost.

I ended up writing my final paper on Sir Thomas Wyatt’s “The Long Love that in my thought doth harbor” and Henry Howard’s “Love, that doth Reign and Live within my Thought.” As you might be able to tell from the similar poem titles, both Howard and Wyatt’s are sonnets inspired by Petrarch’s Rima 140. Petrarch’s Rima 140 discusses the lofty ideas of love, whereas Howard and Wyatt’s perspective see love as binding, constricting, and overall bad. My paper discussed how Howard and Wyatt’s sonnets, both structurally and thematically, influenced the misogynistic views towards Queen Elizabeth I as she ascended to the throne. It was a really fun one to write!

But wait! There’s more…

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The REvenger’s Tragedy – Thomas Middleton

After reading Othello, we took a break from the Norton Anthology to read Thomas Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy, and BOY was it a shit show (in an immaculate way)!

Personally, I love a good tragedy, but this play puts almost any tragic story I’ve ever read to shame. Full of backstabbing, rape, poisonous skulls, and death galore, The Revenger’s Tragedy fully embodies the name Middleton entitled it. You think Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is wild? Read this play and you’ll think otherwise, I promise. Middleton’s play was my favorite thing we read the entire course, and I’m now realizing it deserves a reread some time soon.

Along with reading the play, we also watched the 2003 film adaptation starring Christopher Eccleston and Eddie Izzard, which was just as phenomenal. Highly recommend, to say the least!

The Alchemist – Ben Jonson

After reading Middleton’s play, we also read Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist, which I really didn’t enjoy at all. The themes of the play were super intriguing to discuss; however, the play itself was so plain and boring in its style. The language was very bland, and the majority of the class was just not rocking with it, to say the least. If you enjoy studies of faces and the way people display different personas, Jonson’s play might be up your alley.

Academic Articles

With most English courses, whether it’s an undergraduate or graduate course, we read a lot of academic articles that either encompassed certain history, cultures, and themes during the Renaissance era or paired with certain texts we were reading.

Some of these articles included gender studies, humanism, and other hot topics I mentioned before. An interesting one we read discussed how Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy relates a lot to CAMP with its extravagant plot and characters. As someone who doesn’t know a ton about CAMP, it was super cool to read and learn about.

I was going to include a list of the articles we read, but I figured this post is already long enough. If you’re a fan of Early Modern studies, or just enjoy studying and reading academic articles, let me know and I can hook you up!

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The Conclusion

And that’s that!

It’s probably no surprise that I had a ton of fun and a lot of phenomenal reading experiences during my Renaissance Literature class. I know the language of the Early Modern writers can seem very confusing and a little put-off-ish (is that even a phrase? I guess it is now), but once you get the hang of it, there’s truly no other literature like it. I was able to see the development of how humans began to expand their own sense of self-awareness and the challenges that came with it. Queen Elizabeth I was also the first queen of England that embraced her feminine attributes, which I think is pretty rad, and it’s wild to see the rise of just total misogynistic behavior because of her obvious femininity.

Anyways, I’ll stop my babbling about how much I want everyone to read Renaissance Literature.

I hope you all enjoyed, but, most importantly, I hope you found some cool reading recommendations that you might want to dive into!

The next part of this series will talk about Victorian Literature (aka my other love)!

Until then, remember to love yourself and read good books!

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