English 245 with Dr. G @ SUNY TC3   




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Syllabus & Schedule





1. Classical Britain

2. Beowulf 1

3. Beowulf 2

4. Middle Ages

5. Romance

6. Sir Gawain

7. Malory

8. Chaucer's Miller

9. Wife of Bath

10. Religious Protest

11. Biblical Drama

12. Play of Mankind

13. Early Modern Period

14. Thomas More

15. Philip Sidney

16. Print Culture

17. Walter Raleigh

18. Twelfth Night 1

19. Twelfth Night  2

20. Civil War

21. An Age of Irreverence

22. Aphra Behn

23. Reading Papers

24. Gulliver

25. Rape of the Lock

26. School for Scandal

27. New God

28. Revolution

Final Exam







The Age of Print, etc.
Vol. 1B, pages 667-673, 790-814
Longman 3rd ed.
"Early Modern Period" and
"Government Self Government"


This lesson includes both a quiz and a journal writing assignment to be submitted on the interactive course site at  SUNY Learning Network.  


Write for an hour (or more if you have time). Summarize the readings or evaluate them. Some additional  journaling ideas you may wish to choose for today include:

 Is the social order different in the early modern period? Or is it much the same as the social order noted by Caesar (priests-warriors-commons) and practiced in the Middle Ages (church--nobles-commons)?

Which selection in today's readings strikes you as being the most modern? Which seems the least modern? Why?

Do any of these readings preview the contemporary debate between civil rights and national security?

What is different about the Age of Books, compared with the age of manuscripts? Are we at the end of that Age today with the development of electronic text?






Onward to Volume 1B!








See General instructions on Journaling for this course. For a sample journal, see Dr. G's 2007 Brit Lit 1 Journal

These notes are freely adapted by Dr. G from David Damrosch, et al., Teaching British Literature (New York: Longman, 2003).

The Early Modern Period
Everybody recognizes the newness of the historical age after the Middle Ages, but descriptions vary. When I was young, the new age generally was known as "the reformation," usually with a formidable capital "R." This was an Anglican (Church of England) label but also a broadly Protestant one, denoting the time when our western European forefathers decided to leave the Roman Church and to establish reformed Christian churches.

To ardent secularists, however, the period after the Middle Ages has been known, and probably always will be known, as "the Renaissance." This denotes the rebirth of classical humanism and science that generally had been forgotten since antiquity. Modern science to a considerable degree was invented in Renaissance England by Francis Bacon, though it would not be widely practiced until the Restoration period (Lesson 21).

Like other scholars today Damrosch abandons the terms "Reformation" and "Renaissance" as limited or controversial, in favor of the label "early modern" (see 667-673). One can see in the "early modern" world the beginnings of some significant aspects of modernity. The Tudor state saw the rise of corporate finance, global trade, and the welfare state. Population, cities, commerce, the middle class and poverty expanded rapidly, despite repeated wars, plagues and crop failures.

Above, the happy family of Henry VIII who broke ties with Rome and strengthened the navy.




King James VI and IThe years in question are roughly coterminous with the 16th and 17th centuries. Political historians generally describe this age  as "the Tudor-Stuart period," the time of the Tudor dynasty and Stuart dynasty,  from the accession of Henry VII in 1485, following the Battle of Bosworth Field which ended the long period of civil conflict known as the War of the Roses. The Tudor line, which greatly strengthened the crown, died of natural causes with the virgin queen Elizabeth I in 1603, and the related Stuart line that followed similarly ran out of heirs with the death of spinster Queen Anne in 1714. Beyond Anne, whose reign saw the pinnacle of Greco-Roman neoclassicism in the arts, came the Hanoverian Georges and replacement of classicism by neo- Gothic influences on British literature. 

The Tudors and Stuarts were the last rulers in England to assert the absolute power of the monarch. After Henry VII, they were almost continuously at war and in quest of higher taxes and fees from the people. The Stuart defeat by the forces of Parliament in the English Civil War (1642-1651) inspired and prefigured the later overthrow of kings in America, France and around much of the western world.

Courtly literature reached its final flowering in England during this period, and particular fashions at court changed from one ruler to the next. For example, Shakespeare's career divides clearly in two: an early Elizabethan phase, devoted to comedies and history plays that were favorites of Elizabeth (represented in our anthology by Twelfth Night, cir. 1601), followed by a much more somber and satiric Jacobean phase of tragedies, dark comedies and tragi-comedies (represented in our anthology by The Tempest, cir. 1611). 

But the larger story in Tudor-Stuart literature took shape outside of royal circles. A rich variety of literary output from this period, an explosion of books and pamphlets and handbills of every description, was enabled by the mechanical printing press. This technology went hand in hand with the emergence of free speech and debate, as print suddenly grew beyond the ability of government and church censors to control successfully in most instances. That is why there is so much early modern literature to talk about, why it is so varied in form and subject matter, and why so much of it is politically, socially, religiously or otherwise revolutionary. Our course now enters the Age of Books!


Left: James VI of Scotland and James I of England, successor to Elizabeth I. His view that the king is above the law rubbed many of his subjects the wrong way, as did his extravagant spending. His son Charles I would be beheaded by an act of Parliament.


Finally, if the forgoing descriptions of the period are not enough, add one other label of most importance in America: the Age of Discovery. After 1492 Britain was no longer a backwater on the outer fringe of Europe, the place farthest from Rome, Greece, and the riches of the east. Even though the founder of the Tudor dynasty turned down a voyage proposal from Columbus, British explorations by John Cabot and others were under way before 1500. Britain did not need to be first to the new world in order to realize its strategic geographical advantage for world conquest and global trade.

In early modern Britain lie the seeds of the Anglo-American empire of the next 500 years! These seeds included not only the British slave trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but later abolition of slavery in the Empire and then British efforts to end slavery throughout the world.

Government and Self-Government
The questioning of authority is a recurring early modern theme. There had been centuries of experience, but there was no single charter or written constitution to be consulted. The government of the state, the church, the classroom, and even the family came under scrutiny, and elaborate justifications were argued to support a range of views. Authority was not only questioned but altered. Protest led to a church set aside, and a king beheaded. How should society be re-organized? There were plenty of competing ideas and social experiments. Perhaps another name for the period could be the Age of Disagreement.


As this section of the anthology suggests, there were various advocates for an absolute and authoritarian government. King James attempted to prove that the king was above the law. Tyndale thought that absolute government was justified by the Bible, and those who disagree are damned; Elyot saw that absolute rule corresponded to the order of nature, as illustrated by the bee, the quintessential social animal. Others more pragmatic like Hobbes feared that to depart from the rule of an autocratic central government invited lawless chaos. All of these main stream views reject the aristocratic feudal state which had culminated in the self-destructive Wars of the Roses--the message of Shakespeare's early history plays. There was to be no more Morte Darthur with a weak king overpowered by his greedy barons.

New voices, however, like John Ponet and Thomas Smith, shared belief in a rule of law, but they saw merit only in a government that caused the governed to prosper, and they feared the concentration of power in the hands of one person.

Ponet, who spent much of his adult life in hiding from religious persecution by Queen Mary, and parliamentarian Smith are likely to strike readers today as the most modern of these early moderns. They are forerunners of the founders of the US Constitution with its limited and divided government. Ponet’s insistence on property rights and the well being of citizens anticipates the comprehensive view of the “rights of man” which emerged during the 18th and 19th centuries, and "human rights" in the 20th.  American politicians who have brought us trillions of debt, as well as voters who keep them in office, might do well to read here!


Left: Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan (1651) had a skeptical view of human nature, but advocated an authoritarian central government to keep the peace.









Left: scholar and diplomat Sir Thomas Smith argued that the law was king, and the law was made by parliament. The king had veto power but was otherwise servant of the law.

The theoretical state was paralleled by the theoretical  household. A common view of domestic relations, illustrated by Vives, made women subservient: as Robert Cleaver noted, the household is a “little commonwealth” in which the husband is “cheef” and his wife a “fellowhelper” (A Godly Form of Household Government, 1598). The flaw in projecting this gender bias into politics came to light when Henry VIII produced no male heirs who survived to adulthood. Elyot, paying attention to the possibility that England might be governed by a woman in his lifetime, claimed that history supplied many exceptional examples to the general rule of female subservience. By necessity power came to rest with queens Lady Jane, Mary 1 and Elizabeth 1.

The monarchy's consolidation of power came at the expense not only of the aristocrats but also of the church. A large body of early modern literature debates reformation of the religious establishment. Theorists tended to focus either on the right to dissent, sometimes with bloody consequences (e.g., Foxe); or on the duty to conform (e.g., Hooker). Ironically, Foxe's book of protestant martyrs is modeled on Catholic saint's lives, while Hooker is called upon to make the untraditional argument that the king ought to be head of the church.

Left: cover page to the famous misogynist treatise by protestant John Knox against female rulers (especially Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart)


How remarkable is it that advances in the conception and rights of women have coincided with the rule of Queens of England? Modern women's suffrage began in the reign of Victoria; women's lib and feminism have arisen under Elizabeth II.


Castiglione contended that one can and should study to become an office holder. This idea seems obvious to us, but it was a novelty in the Tudor period. (There were no civil service exams in medieval Britain!) The practical comments of Ascham and Mulcaster on corporal punishment, “quick study,” and close-mindedness may strike today’s students as especially relevant to their own experiences in the public school classroom. Discussion of what Mulcaster understood by prejudice can lead to an appreciation of how suspect rote memorization had become in this period of inquiry, questioning and debate. It is with the early moderns that ancient skepticism is reborn in such remarkable Brits as Sir Francis Bacon and Sir Thomas Browne.

Education is crucial in creating leaders: this is what humanists Ascham (803) and Mulcaster (805) thought that they were doing as teachers. Vives' student Mary Tudor and Ascham's student Elizabeth Tudor, as young girls, had very different instruction, and these lessons may in part account for the abject failure of the one and stunning success of the other in later public life. Nobody taught Elizabeth to stay at home and follow her husband's directions.

Left: Raphael's painting of Baldasare Castiglione (1478-1529), product of Renaissance humanism, authored  the definitive European how-to book on courtiership.



Holbein's "Ambassadors" is our editor's choice for the cover of the Early Modern period.



Left: Han's Holbein's The Ambassadors, from the National Portrait Gallery, London, contains a mystery. Do you see it?


The Battle of Bosworth Field from the Richard III Society

The Gunpowder Plot Society web page

Early Modern England Sourcebook from www.EnglishHistory.org

Luminarium: 16th Century Rennaissance English Literature

Masters of Renaissance Literature from Online Masters Program

Uniting the Kingdoms 1066-1603 from the UK National Archive

Foxe's Book of Martyrs at Johnfoxe.org

Hobbes: Moral and Political Philosophy from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Richard Hooker at Luminarium



If you know of an excellent website that would wonderfully  complement this lesson, please send it to Dr. G.

Copyright 2008 by Gary Homer Gutchess