Your first essay should focus on material from the first group of readings for the seminar (Dante through Gascoigne). This material establishes a model, which associates a form (short lyrics, such as the sonnet and canzone) with a topic (love), and lays out a recognizable set of terms in which poets will use lyric to write about love. What is this model? Generally, a poetry of praise written by a man to a woman who has become the focus of his longing; often, it involves forms of idealization (of the object); often, it is accompanied by a disabling of the self (figuratively, by a sense of inadequacy, or literally, as in actual inability to speak, function, etc.). Even Wyatt's more bitter poems might be seen as a reaction against this model rather than an attempt to reexamine or to change its terms.
Choose two writers and/or two poems you'd like to think about more. Begin by doing some close analysis of the poems and what's going on in them. Then consider how they relate to each other and to the background of the broad, generic model I've described. Dante, Petrarch, Surrey, Wyatt and Gascoigne each have a distinctive flavor as writers and thinkers, even when merely translating. How do your poems (or poets, if you feel ambitious) vary or develop the generic model of love lyrics in distinctive ways?
The first essay (5-7 pp.) is due in Class #13. By Class #11, you should have some preliminary work, if not an actual rough draft, and we will use class time for you to describe your work in progress and get feedback from the rest of the class. I'll provide food and drink. For you as a writer, this meeting is a chance to try out your ideas and arguments on a well-informed audience, as well as to ask for suggestions about places you feel stuck. It's also a chance to hear what other people are thinking in a more sustained way than our ordinary discussion allows; to get an idea of the range of possible approaches to the topic; and also (to the extent you can give feedback) to practice thinking about how to construct and revise readings and arguments.
This last paper should be 15-20 pages, and is due on the last day of class. We'll have an extra meeting the week before the final paper is due for you to present your work in progress over a meal.
Suggestions for how to proceed:
Here are examples of the three strategies for conclusion described above (taken from another Renaissance poetry seminar):
Example A : Has there ever been a gay Shakespeare? Yes--and his name is Shakespeare (Eve Sedgwick).
Example B : What I've said about Shakespeare's Sonnets suggests that we would best understand his poems to the young man by reading them not only in the context of Petrarchan love poetry, but also against other poems written by men to men--for instance, the many elegies on the death of Philip Sidney which praised him as an ideal. But that would be the subject of another essay.
Example C : [Your argument here] [two lines from the Sonnets here].