Scattered Rhymes, Bound Pages (seminar)
This was a spring 1999 semester seminar led by Anne Lake Prescott.
Precisely because the Renaissance sonnet sequence was so conventional, poets found in it an opportunity for combining imitation and revision. For modern readers the imitations offer a chance to observe cultural continuities at work, if often under pressure, and the revisions raise intriguing questions about originality, imitatio, subjectivity, and the shifting status of authorship. How may later poets say something new after Petrarch? How do the individual sonnets fit the whole, if they do? Is there a narrative or some other ordering and unifying principle to be found? Number symbolism, perhaps, or a calendar? How does erotic passion relate to religious or ethical imperatives? Is love always love or is it also a way of expressing political desire? How are the sequences presented physically on the page and in the volume? What happens when women write like Petrarch? Or if the love is homoerotic? What if the lover thinks, or affects to think, that he should be writing an epic? Ovid had claimed that when he attempted epic hexameters Cupid laughingly stole his final syllable, converting them into erotic elegiacs. Did sonneteers share this unease or defiance and if so, what does this show about their concepts of poetic glory and service to a dynasty or the translation of empire? In pursuing such topics the seminar read sequences by Petrarch, Stampa, Labé, Du Bellay, Ronsard, Watson, Sidney, Spenser, Barnfield, Daniel, Drayton, Shakespeare, and Wroth, in many cases with reference to original editions. Some time was also spent on two related forms: the emblem book and the psalter. All texts were in English or in translation.
Director: Anne Lake Prescott is Professor of English at Barnard College and at the graduate English department at Columbia University. She is the author of Imagining Rabelais in the English Renaissance (1998) and French Poets and the English Renaissance: Studies in Fame and Transformation (1978). Coeditor of the third Norton edition of Edmund Spenser's Poetry (1993), she is now joint editor of Spenser Studies.