Suggestions on the "Culture" Paper,

For 5328 students only, due at the Final Exam (5/10 @ 10:30 am)

1. Subject Matter:

The most important feature of this paper is to demonstrate what might be deduced about the culture of seventeenth-century England from a given selection of texts.

Therefore, the most important first decision you have to make is what interests you about seventeenth-century England. Is it attitudes toward women? Attitudes toward marriage? Images of class relationships? London (the city) itself? Images of death and dying? Attitudes toward aging? Images of children? The female body? Tobacco? Drinking? Attitudes toward the monarchy and political leaders in general? Education? Dissenter political opinions? Evidence of attitudes toward God? Country (village) life? Public health/medicine/sickness? Science? travel and exploration? Attitudes toward the poet/writer?

Once you have decided on a topic, consider a selection of texts that will enable you to argue that your topic is present in the literature of the period, and suggests what people might have believed, or thought, or known (you can only have an opinion on how accurate the views you see might have been, but that's okay; you don't have to know what people thought to argue that the literature suggests certain attitudes).

2. Selection of texts

You can mix selections from poetry and prose, or stay just with poetry or just with prose. You can use anything in any of the texts we are using (and anything you find on websites, i.e., other Herrick poems, or other Herbert ones). I'd appreciate it, though, if you do find something outside our texts that you provide a copy of that text with your paper so that I don't have to go look it up (in case it isn't in my library).

3. Sample text selections, with topics (please understand: these are suggestions only; they represent a "pool" for you to choose from, or to give you ideas of where else you might go):

Images of dying: the Jane Paulet elegy, "On my first son," Donne's Holy Sonnet # 6 ("Death be not proud"), Herbert's "Death," Bacon's "Of Death," and/or Donne's "Meditation # xvii: "Now this bell tolling softly for another says to me, thou must die"

Images of class: Suckling's "Ballad upon a Wedding," Herrick's "Upon Prue his Maid," Jonson's "Giles and Joan," Overbury's "A Tinker," Bunyan's "Grace Abounding," Lilbourne's "Work of the Beast"

London: Overbury's "Paul's Walk," Jonson's "The Voyage Itself," Pepys's Diary on the London fire

Attitudes toward Political Leaders: Marvell's "Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland"; anything about kings, especially Charles I and II

Honest Recreations: Milton's "L'Allegro" and/or the country house poems by Jonson and Herrick


4. What to do when you've chosen topic and texts:

There are two obvious organizations:

Work your way through the texts, one by one, making such observations about its relevance to your topic (i.e. what in the text suggests cultural attitudes or realities)


Organize by the range of attitudes, or sub-divisions of your subject; in the examples of class above, for example, the attitudes toward "common" people range from complimentary to scoffing; you might design a discussion of marriage equally wide-ranging by focusing on an epithalamion and an epigram

Do, as appropriate, take into account the influence of genre for the poetry (prose too) and the effect of prose style (plain or fancy) on the prose. My assumption here is that the "style" (genre, style) of the work influences its critical attitudes. For example, Jonson's view of London in "The Voyage Itself" is shaped by the fact that the poem is a satire, whereas Pepys's description of London is shaped by his writing an entry in his own diary in not-very-florid prose. (Another way of saying this is to remind you that it never hurts to show your teacher that you've learned something in the class.)

5. In conclusion, remember: your primary goal has been to view the culture through the literature; so, think about these questions: "how good of a mirror or looking glass on the "world" of the seventeenth century is its literature?" and "so what?" Answering these questions will give you a thesis too, of course.)

To repeat: turn the paper in conjunction with the Final Exam on May 10.