ENGL 336 B1: The Common and Commons in Sixteenth-Century Literature

C. Sale

In this course we will investigate one of the most popular themes of sixteenth-century literature in England, the question of whether and how the English might 'hold things in common'. We will begin our investigations with the two humanist texts that most famously articulate the possibility, Erasmus's Adages and Thomas More's Utopia, and then move on to literary texts more rarely studied, Christopher St. German's Addicions of Salem and Bizance (1534) and Isabella Whitney's Sweet Nosegay (1573, the first book of verse in English published by a woman). We will stop along the way to consider the importance of a 1550s edition of Utopia, before leaping ahead to the 1590s, and the study of three texts in conjunction, the anonymous Life and Death of Jack Straw, Shakespeare's Henry VI Part II, and the banned Conference about the Next Succession (published under the pseudonym R. Doleman; the 'doleman' is the one who ploughs a common field). The 1590s texts will let us set literary representations of the 1381 Peasants' Rebellion and the fifteenth-century rebellion of Jack Cade in relation to late sixteenth-century English republicanism. Finally, we will put our understandings of sixteenth-century understandings of the possibility of 'holding things in common' to the test by considering how they bear fruit in two texts of 1604, Francis Trigge's Petition of Two Sisters, the Church and Commonwealth and Shakespeare's King Lear. The reading list will include key scholarly articles, both historical and literary, on our theme, including a chapter from David Rollison's A Commonwealth of the People (2010).