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Unit information: Shakespeare's Sonnets in 2015/16

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Unit name Shakespeare's Sonnets
Unit code ENGL39030
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Lee
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

Shakespeare is most famous as a writer of plays; he is also one of the greatest lyric poets who has written in English. His Sonnets (published in 1609) may be the most famous love poems in the world. They are also difficult to appreciate fully, both because of their verbal complexity and because of their argumentative inquisitiveness about the nature of the experience of love and sexual desire.

This course aims to help students begin to appreciate the Sonnets. The majority of the course will be given over to detailed discussions of individual sonnets, from which discussions students should become familiar with the chief areas of critical debate. The literary and social history of the sonnet form will also be considered, and students should expect to read sonnets and sonnet sequences by other poets.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the unit, students will have developed:

  1. a good knowledge of the Sonnets, including their textual history
  2. a good knowledge of the critical commentary on the Sonnets
  3. a good knowledge of Elizabethan sonnet sequences
  4. a critical appreciation of some of poetic styles of the Elizabethan period
  5. a critical appreciation of the potentials and problems that come with writing a series of sonnets, and particulary of the related issue of subjectivity
  6. a critical appreciation of the Sonnets verbal playfulness and beauty

Teaching Information

1 x 2 hour seminar per week.

Assessment Information

1 essay of 2,000 words (40%) and 1 essay of 3,000 words (60%)

Reading and References

Key Primary and Secondary Texts:

Booth, Stephen, ed., Shakespeare's Sonnets (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977)

Empson, William, Seven Types of Ambiguity (London: Chatto and Windus, 1930)

Empson, William, Some Versions of Pastoral (London: Chatto and Windus, 1935)

Fineman, Joel, Shakespeare's Perjured Eye (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986)

Kerrigan, J, ed., The Sonnets and A Lover's Complaint (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986)

Vendler, H, The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997)