Course Materials


Course Description

We will read selections from several poets, the non-canonical as well as the traditional, from the reign of James I to slightly after the Restoration (1603-1667). Although we will spend a bit more time on John Donne, Ben Jonson, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, and John Milton, we will also study Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew, Edmund Waller, Richard Lovelace, Aemilia Lanyer, and Katherine Philips. We will devote two weeks to reading and watching John Webster’s play The Duchess of Malfi and the last month of the course to Paradise Lost. We will investigate trends in seventeenth-century English history: the reigns of James I, Charles I, Charles II, and James II; Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution; religion and society.





Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle

Born Margaret Lucas in 1623, the future “poetress,” as she liked to refer to herself, enjoyed a happy childhood in which she not only learned the usual aristocratic accoutrements (music, dancing, needlework), but also developed an interest in writing that her parents encouraged her to develop into a passion. She wrote what she later called her “baby books,” the antithesis of the age’s implicit concept of cultural femininity, self-effacement and an aversion to self-display.Cavendish Her Royalist family naturally supported the king at the outbreak of the Civil War, and Margaret was appointed maid of honour to Henrietta Maria, and at the reversal of fortune and the ensuing exile, followed the court to France. There, she was introduced to William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, and married him in 1645, and left the queen’s service to live in penury during the Cromwellian period, in Paris and Antwerp. William apparently was unthreatened by her intellect and, like her own father (and mother), strongly encouraged her to write as she pleased and to learn the new science and rationalistic philosophy just then coming into vogue. She returned to England in 1651 and worked full time on her first book, later published as Poems and Fancies. Twenty-one other publications would follow, including The Blazing World, an early work of science fiction. She is alleged to have said that it was “against nature for a woman to spell right,” which is in keeping with other ironically self-effacing statements in her works. Naturally, she was criticized roundly for writing at all, but she made her successors possible—not just other women who wrote poetry, such as Aphra Behn, Katherine Philips, and Anne Finch, but men and women who challenged themselves with unconventional subjects for their verses, such as science, or what could be seen with the aid of the innovation of Robert Hooke (c. 1655) on an earlier invention, the compound microscope. Cavendish died in 1673. Here is the website for a society devoted to her works.