The Development of Poetry from Wyatt to Donne (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a fall 2008 semester seminar led by Dympna C. Callaghan.

Recent years have seen a radical re-evaluation of English poetry. An array of voices hitherto excluded from the canon–especially those of women and poetry on the geographical peripheries of early modern Britain–are now regularly anthologized and have become almost as well known to the present generation of undergraduates as those of the most illustrious poets of the period. As the canon has been dismantled and reconfigured, so too have the critical paradigms through which it is read. Perhaps most importantly, early modern poems are now more often situated within their social and ideological contexts than previously. Under this rubric, scholars can no longer take for granted the distinctions between verse hitherto held to be inferior in execution and content and the elevated, decorative, and lyrical language traditionally associated with canonical poetry. In the wake of such fundamental interrogation of the aesthetic evaluation and cultural function of poetry—What does poetry do? What is it for?—seminar participants reconsidered the terrain of early modern verse, from the elite to the popular, and allowed a wide variety of poems to unfold in relation to questions about the nature, status, function, and aesthetic struggles of English poetry.

Director: Dympna C. Callaghan is Dean’s Professor in the Humanities at Syracuse University. Her books include Woman and Gender in Renaissance Tragedy, Shakespeare Without Women and Shakespeare’s Sonnets. She is currently working on an anthology of early modern poetry for Oxford University Press.