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




  ***     17. Walter Raleigh     ***



The New World
Vol. 1B, pages 1114-1126 and 1230-1272
Longman 3rd ed.
"Elizabeth I," "Sir Walter Raleigh,"
and "Perspectives on the New World"

Raleigh's Discovery of Guiana and other works appear at Project Gutenberg. Thomas Harriot's Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia can be found on the website of the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. Captain John Smith's True Relation of Virginia is available online at the University of Virginia.


The 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 make notes you will find useful on the final essay. Some other journaling ideas for today may include:

Is Raleigh a crook? a patriot? How do you evaluate his character?

Compare Raleigh's new world with More's Utopia.

Is America about gold?








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






Left: Walter Raleigh in London today




Adapted and enlarged by Dr. G from David Damrosch, et al.,
Teaching British Literature
(New York: Longman, 2003)

Henry Tudor saved money and decided not to sponsor the first voyage of Columbus, but the kingdom eventually profited anyway. After Columbus, Britain no longer was an island off the west coast of France. It found itself center-stage in world events. England  separated from Europe in the divorce of Henry VIII from his Spanish queen, in the dismissal of the Church of Rome, and later in the refusal of Elizabeth to marry into any continental royal family, but most of all in sailing west to the New World.

Raleigh's Poems
With Elizabeth's marriage to her people came an unprecedented outpouring of court poetry  modeled on medieval romance. The echo of Sir Lancelot is to be heard in Walter Raleigh's melancholy expressions of courtly love, addressed "To the Queen," the unapproachable virgin queen. This poem follows courtly love tradition dating back Guinevere, but doomed to failure is Raleigh's attempt to improve his political fortunes by engaging the queen in a flirtatious fantasy. Bitterness is boldly expressed in "To Cynthia," rebuking Elizabeth for indifference to the poet's accomplishments and suggesting her disdain for her subjects. Readiness to die for love sounds a distant echo of the Saxon thane, but there is less sacrifice than self-pity in Raleigh.


Image:Nicholas Hilliard 007.jpgIn Raleigh's more general and philosophical poems, the hard-hearted lady takes on broader significance, representing nature. The inevitable transience of love is the focus of "As You Came from the Holy Land," and "Nature that Washed Her Hands in Milk." The first of these treats antiphonally the voices of the pilgrim and the lover; the lover’s complaint and the pilgrim’s consolation (such as it is) situate love in the landscape of time that presages for all lovers its inevitable loss. The second poem is similarly charged with pathos. In the third stanza the poet suggests that his love will die because of the hard heart of his lady, but in the succeeding stanzas the destroyer is time itself.

Death comes to the fore in "On the Life of Man" and the poet’s epitaph, but most of all in the epilogue to the  unfinished
History of the World (1614), written during a final long imprisonment at the order of King James I for alleged involvement in a conspiracy. The epilogue predicts Raleigh’s own end, and it catches the gloom of a superseded court whose gallant ambitions had faded and then passed with the great queen:

O eloquent just and mightie Death!
Whom none could advise, thou hast perswuaded;
what none hath dared, thou has done;
and whom all the world hath flattered,
thou only hast cast out of the world and despised;
thou hast drawne together all the farre stretched greatnesse,
all the pride, crueltie, and ambition of man,
and covered it over with these two narrow words,
hic iacet
  [here he lies].

Raleigh was prosecuted by Edward Coke, the most famous jurist of the Elizabethan Age. Declaring both the king and parliament to be subject to both law and reason, Coke had major influence on "the rule of law" in later Anglo-American society. However, the Raleigh trial illustrates how far James operated above the law. In a "civil court," where common law rights were suspended, Raleigh was sentenced to death on the basis of hearsay, and he was not allowed to cross examine his accuser. Raleigh's political trial and later execution apparently were James' appeasements to Spain for English attacks on Spanish interests in the New World. One scarcely imagines that Elizabeth would have been so hard hearted or fearful.



Raleigh's portrait cir. 1585 in the National Portrait Gallery, London.










The Discovery of Guiana (1596)
Raleigh’s account of the land and peoples of the Americas leads a set of readings in this lesson about English exploration of the New World. Several themes run through these readings and other adventurers' tales: the abundance of the land, the competition among explorers, the hardships of their way of life, the natural simplicity of the native people, the Christian missionary zeal that could excuse atrocity committed against "heathens" but also could warn against materialism, and the skepticism and charges of misconduct with which explorers' stories were met by stay-at-home rivals at court.

Raleigh’s dedication to the powerful lords Howard and Cecil asks them to help defend him from detractors who claim that he has not in fact gone to Guiana, that he has enriched himself at the expense of the state, that there is no gold in the New World. Raleigh writes of his expedition, much as he writes his love poetry, to the practical end of regaining credibility and power through the force of his words, even when his actions may seem to belie them.

Before they knew much about the New World, early modern Europeans saw in it what they imagined. Many were driven insane by the pipe dream of an American city of gold, El Dorado. Raleigh claims to have found in Guiana el madre del oro: not gold itself, but the source of it. English control of the mother lode, he argues, can cut off Spain's income and its financial ability to build armadas to attack England. In this point of view, the quest for gold becomes a patriotic duty, a moral duty, even a religious duty.

A promoter of the black legend, Raleigh denounces Spanish rule as hateful to the native Americans. They can easily be won over to English rule, he says, because the English are so friendly and cooperative. Yet almost in the next breath Raleigh advises that the English can take over in America because Spanish resistance is weak, and because the Indians are poorly defended. In this regard the New World seems an extension of the colony of Ireland, where young Raleigh's massacre of natives at the infamous siege of Smerwick earned him an award of 40,000 acres in Munster.

Raleigh's reading plays a material role in his understanding of Guiana. His account of the life of the Amazons, who he claims are natives of Guiana, is derived from the Greek historian Strabo (c. 63 B.C.–19 A.D.) and from classical commentary to book 11 of Virgil's Aeneid. The reference to warrior women of classical mythology may have been intended to flatter Elizabeth with heroic precedent--she would be queen of the Amazons by ruling Guiana--but the allusion to a race of people whose existence was so questionable only fed Raleigh's enemies, who argued that Raleigh had never set foot in the New World at all.

Raleigh’s fixation on the power of gold calls to mind More’s illustration of the Utopian economy, in which only the smallest children find attractive this inherently useless metal. For further discussion of the materialistic and religious ideologies of conquest, see the brief but very pithy attack on Spanish rule in New Spain by the father of human rights, Bartolomé de las Casas in
The Devastation of the Indies (1552). A famous satiric account is found in Voltaire's Candide (1758).

Early modern depiction of the horrors of Spanish conquests in the new world

Left: illustration from Las Casas Devastation of the Indies, the foundation book of the black legend. Las Casas today is regarded as a founding father of human rights.



England in the New World
Accounts of first contact, such as Arthur Barlow’s, sometimes show native Americans as friendly and essentially without guile. These characteristics suggested that trade with natives would result in huge profits: for trinkets they would receive goods of great value.

Thomas Hariot’s account is remarkable for its interest in technology; obviously, he is looking forward to the means by which the English will manage to control a people who remain defenseless before the guns of the colonists. He does not understand microbes and acquired immunity, but he is fascinated by disease that the Native Americans contract soon after their encounters with Englishmen. He conjectures that the infected are only those natives who "used some practice against us" (1258), as if an unseen spirit of destiny or justice eliminates England's opponents. 

More's Utopia described a distant country beset with an excess of gold; proponents of real colonization (like Michael  Drayton) similarly spoke of an America rich in natural resources; pearls and precious metal lying everywhere. Both fantasies soon contrasted with reports of actual colonial experience, which described dire hardships, deadly conflicts and backbreaking labor.












Left: Captain John Smith as depicted in his book on the colonies in Virginia and New England.

New ideals emerged from New World experience between the first decade of the 1500s, when More constructed his rational “nowhere,” and 1608, when John Smith chronicled Jamestown. Smith did not claim that colonists could expect to get rich. He stressed instead the need for hard work and an orderly society  committed to the preservation of liberty but not to the promotion of license. This realistic assessment of the requirements of colonial life put Smith in the forefront of the early writers on North America.







Left: Jacobean portrait of Pocahontas. In his narrative Smith claims to understand her words to him.





John Donne's sermon to the Virginia Company reveals another aspect of early colonial literature, its frequent substitution of religious explanations for unpalatable economic and political ones. Donne’s moralized account of what caused the massacre of the colonists in Jamestown in 1622 reflects his understanding of the apostolic mission in the New Testament's Book of Acts.

How does Donne's sermon give a new meaning to the idea of “wealth”? And how does his vision fit with the triumphalism implied in earlier commentaries, especially that of Hariot, who spoke of how advantageous it would be for the English to represent themselves to the Indians as gods?

Left: poet and Anglican minister John Donne.







Below: Renaissance engraving of Raleigh with friendly, cooperative Indians.


Elizabeth I: An Overview from the BBC.

Queen Elizabeth's Charter to Sir Walter Raleigh at Yale Law School.

Walter Raleigh at Bartleby.

Sir Walter Raleigh This site conveys useful biographical and contextual material about Raleigh.

America in 1607 by National Geographic Society

http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/vcdh/jamestown/ Virtual Jamestown, Virginia settlement.


Do you know of a great web site that would compliment this page? Please send the URL to Dr. G.

 Copyright 2008 by Gary Homer Gutchess.