A list of topics covered in the course is presented in the calendar below.

Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Work Expectations

Written Work

  1. Shakespeare Paper (Lec #9) (counts as 5 pages)
  2. Monologue for Milton's Satan (Lec #11) (5 pages)
  3. Paper on Frankenstein, monsters, and intertextuality (Lec #16) (6-7 pages)
  4. Revision Option: revise either your Shakespeare paper or your Frankenstein paper. In class we'll discuss terms of revision and redrafting; you choose which of your papers you want to revise. (Either 1 day after Lec #12 or Lec #18)
  5. Close Reading (Lec #23) (5 pages)
  6. Memorize a short poem (over 12 lines, less than 50) and come to class prepared to recite it and to explain your reasons for choosing it. (Some time after Lec #19)

No late papers. This rule follows from the shape of knowledge in the field; poets read other poets, and poems follow from and speak back (and forward) to other poems. Late papers, or papers out of sequence, violate this rhythm of intertextuality.

Other Work

  1. Attentive reading. Read each major poem five times. This careful attention should take hours; yes, it's possible to skim them and to come to class with only a superficial experience of them, but what's the point?
  2. Regular and responsible attendance
  3. Careful listening, contributions as a good participant and as an engaged, integrative listener

Because one cannot authentically participate with the skills of a discussion or of a listener without being present, let's assume that anyone who misses more than a class-meeting or two will be asked to drop the subject.

CI Designation

This subject is one that fulfills the Communication Intensive (CI) requirements. All students must take one CI subject in each of their four undergraduate years: two CI subjects as part of their HASS requirement and two CI subjects as Part of their undergraduate program. In this class, requirements will be satisfied by:

  1. The oral component (daily discussions, oral presentations during the last weeks of the term),
  2. Completion of the essays plus the responses to the "study questions", amounting to a total of more than 20 pages, and
  3. A revision and resubmission of one of the formal essay assignments.


I try to be decent. If forced to give a formula for grading, I'd say

  • Slightly over 1/2 on your written work
  • Slightly under 1/2 on your other work for the term and
  • My sense of whether you've learned something

MIT Literature Statement on Plagiarism

Plagiarism--the use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgement--is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the professor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information received from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available on the Writing and Communication Center and the MIT Web site on Plagiarism.


1 Why metrics matter: the medium is the message

Why English counts patterns of emphasis as it does

Why does Dante put Ulysses in hell? Does something in the form or tone pass judgment on him?
2 Pastoralism: Genre (derived from Greek Models)

Is "The Pastoral" in fact a sophisticated form?
3 Pastoralism and Gender

Do women use language differently than men do? Tone, diction, form
4 Renaissance "wit" and Renaissance metaphors (the 'conceit')

"My America": Renaissance sonnet-cycles, readership, publication, and Circulation
5 Donne's arguments

Marvell's logic: syllogism and the blandishments of tone

Marvell's irony
6 How the sonnet works (8 and 6 / thesis and antithesis / question and answer)

Shakespeare and the Socratic concept of seduction

Close reading of several sonnets
7 Resisting the biographical narrative

Embedded sonnets in Romeo and Juliet

Begin the play: civil disorder and children's obedience
8 The ballroom scene and the metaphors of pilgrimage

Compare ballroom and balcony scenes in several films of the play (Including Franco Zefferelli and Baz Luhrmann)
9 Why is Juliet smarter than Romeo?

Christian Sacrifice and Comic Reconciliation
10 Keats and the Truth of the Heart's [Art's?] Affection

Who says the last lines of the "Urn" and why does the question matter?

Dickinson, "I lived for Art" and the Keatsian model
11 Satan's persuasive rhetoric: read Satan's speeches

Milton's Satan and transverse logic

Milton's problem: Theology versus Aesthetic form
12 Milton's Eve and the Freedom of Choice / Eve's narcissism

"The Fall" and what happens to the natural world?

Adam's ironic love-song at the moment Eve falls
13 Wordsworth: reclaiming paradise

Blake: reclaiming innocence

Blake: Vision and illustration

"Lamb" and catechetics
14 Blake: compare "The Lamb" and "The Tyger"

The grammar of "The Tyger"

Why is the Tyger smiling?
15 Shelley's Platonism and Romantic self-assertion
16 The Monster's literary education

How does the Creature become the Monster?
17 Frame narratives in the novel

"Forbidden" knowledge?

Frankenstein and pop culture
18 Keats' Odes: The Natural World
19 Keats' Odes: Art and Representation
20 Keats' Odes: Time, Mortality, Repetition
21 Sonnets!
22 Browning and the secret self

Tone and self-revelation
23 "Home Burial" and Gender Difference

Counting iambic pentameter: flexibility and social measurement
24 Sincerity and authenticity

Why does Lionel Trilling call Frost a "terrifying" poet?
25 Close reading of Prufrock, focusing on form
26 Close reading of Prufrock, focusing on images
27 Plath's humor and Plath's form

After modernism, what?