Course Description

The Renaissance has justly become both famous and notorious as an age of discovery, and its voyages took place in many realms. This semester, we will read several history making narratives of early modern travel: first-hand accounts of discovery, captivity, conquest, or cultural encounter. As Europeans came to acquire experience of unfamiliar places, literary texts of the period began to assimilate this experience by describing imagined voyages across real or fantastic landscapes. Finally, voyages of exploration served Renaissance writers as a metaphor: for intellectual inquiry, for spiritual development, or for the pursuit of love. Among the literary genres sampled this semester will be sonnets, plays, prose narratives, utopias, and chivalric romance. Authors and travelers will include Francis Petrarch, Amerigo Vespucci, Thomas More, Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser, Hernán Cortés, John Donne, Francis Drake, Mary Rowlandson, Francis Bacon.

Course Reading


An online anthology of English literature from the middle ages through the late 1600's; includes texts as well as background information and links to other resources.

Course Grades

Presentations and work in class 25%
3 Essays (writing) 75%

MIT Literature Statement on Plagiarism

Plagiarism—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 instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken 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 at the Writing and Communication Center and the MIT Web site on Plagiarism.


1 Introductions

Columbus, Cabot

Vespucci: diaries and letters


Petrarch, "The Ascent of Mount Ventoux" letter to "Socrates", "Canzoniere".

4 More, Utopia

More, Utopia (cont.)

6 Cortes/Sahagun, The war of Conquest
7 Cortes/Sahagun, The war of Conquest (cont.)
8 Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book I

Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book I

Conferences on essay 1

10 Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book II

Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Book II (cont.)

12 Marlowe, Faustus
13 Marlowe, Faustus (cont.) Essay 1 due
14 Marlowe, Tamburlaine
15 Marlowe, Tamburlaine (cont.)
16 Hakluyt, Principal Navigations (selections)
17 Hakluyt, Principal Navigations (selections) (cont.)
18 Writing workshop
19 (Tentative) Boston Public Library field trip Essay 2 due
20 Bacon, New Atlantis
21 Donne, poems and prose
22 Donne, poems and prose (cont.) Optional revision due
23 Bradford, Plimoth Plantation
24 Rowlandson, Sovereignty
25 Rowlandson, Sovereignty (cont.)
26 Dinner Essay 3 due