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Essay 1
Your first essay should focus on material from the first group of readings for the seminar (Dante through Gascoigne). This material establishes a model, which associates a form (short lyrics, such as the sonnet and canzone) with a topic (love), and lays out a recognizable set of terms in which poets will use lyric to write about love. What is this model? Generally, a poetry of praise written by a man to a woman who has become the focus of his longing; often, it involves forms of idealization (of the object); often, it is accompanied by a disabling of the self (figuratively, by a sense of inadequacy, or literally, as in actual inability to speak, function, etc.). Even Wyatt's more bitter poems might be seen as a reaction against this model rather than an attempt to reexamine or to change its terms.

Choose two writers and/or two poems you'd like to think about more. Begin by doing some close analysis of the poems and what's going on in them. Then consider how they relate to each other and to the background of the broad, generic model I've described. Dante, Petrarch, Surrey, Wyatt and Gascoigne each have a distinctive flavor as writers and thinkers, even when merely translating. How do your poems (or poets, if you feel ambitious) vary or develop the generic model of love lyrics in distinctive ways?

The first essay (5-7 pp.) is due in Class #13. By Class #11, you should have some preliminary work, if not an actual rough draft, and we will use class time for you to describe your work in progress and get feedback from the rest of the class. I'll provide food and drink. For you as a writer, this meeting is a chance to try out your ideas and arguments on a well-informed audience, as well as to ask for suggestions about places you feel stuck. It's also a chance to hear what other people are thinking in a more sustained way than our ordinary discussion allows; to get an idea of the range of possible approaches to the topic; and also (to the extent you can give feedback) to practice thinking about how to construct and revise readings and arguments.

Essay 2 - Seminar Paper
This last paper should be 15-20 pages, and is due on the last day of class. We'll have an extra meeting the week before the final paper is due for you to present your work in progress over a meal.

Suggestions for how to proceed:

  1. Begin by 1) deciding which parts of which text(s) appeal to you most, and then find a topic or question to pursue; or 2) formulating a question which interests you, and then decide which texts would best serve to pose and answer it. In either case, you should end up with some idea of a question and some idea of which (e.g.) characters, plot threads or passages you'll be looking at.
  2. Next, you might either 1) do some close readings of your passages, and think about the kinds of topics or questions which are emerging, the patterns being formed in the interpretations you're generating; or 2) think about how to pursue your topic or question, and develop a provisional hypothesis about what you think will be the case, before going on to some readings of particular parts of the text or texts.
  3. Think about how your close readings connect with a framing question, and how they can be organized to bring out an argument or exposition; recalibrate your hypothesis, perhaps even your question, in the light of the closer readings you've now done of your texts.
  4. In your conclusion, recall the original question and the stages by which you've asked and answered it; don't have recourse to generalities, but remind the reader of the most interesting things you've discovered and argued--brief quotations aren't out of place here to recall the flavor of the works you're talking about (e.g., phrases rather than ten-line chunks). This last piece of the paper would also be the place to include other ideas, conclusions or even questions you've come up with that don't quite fit into your topic, or which you didn't anticipate--even if you don't have time to explore them fully.
  5. You can win or lose a reader in the last few sentences of your paper. Here are three rhetorically effective things to do at the very end: 1) restate your main point first with some detail and complexity, and then in the most succinct and lapidary prose (see example A below for what I mean by the second); 2) suggest another question which arises from the work you've done in the paper, and would form the subject of a hypothetical companion essay (see example B); 3) introduce a quote from one of the works which can now, in the light of your essay, be seen as perfectly exemplifying the points you've made (see example C).

Here are examples of the three strategies for conclusion described above (taken from another Renaissance poetry seminar):

Example A : Has there ever been a gay Shakespeare? Yes--and his name is Shakespeare (Eve Sedgwick).

Example B : What I've said about Shakespeare's Sonnets suggests that we would best understand his poems to the young man by reading them not only in the context of Petrarchan love poetry, but also against other poems written by men to men--for instance, the many elegies on the death of Philip Sidney which praised him as an ideal. But that would be the subject of another essay.

Example C : [Your argument here] [two lines from the Sonnets here].