The Early Seventeenth Century section of Norton Topics Online offers an introduction to the major debates which divided England in this period: the ordering of the state, the church, and the family. In addition, the topic on Milton's Paradise Lost provides a range of contexts for the study of a literary work in which all of these conflicts are played out.

Suggested uses of Norton Topics Online: The Early Seventeenth Century with The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Eighth Edition (anthology page references for the new Seventh Edition are included below):

Gender, Family, Household: Seventeenth-Century Norms and Controversies

Edmund Spenser, Amoretti and Epithalamion NAEL8.1.902
John Donne, Songs and Sonnets and Elegies NAEL8.1.1263
Ben Jonson, The Celebration of Charis NAEL8.1.1437
  To Penshurst NAEL8.1.1434
Mary Wroth, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus NAEL8.1.1457
John Milton, Paradise Lost


John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi NAEL8.1.1461
Elizabeth Cary, The Tragedy of Mariam NAEL8.1.1537
Aemilia Lanyer, To Cooke-ham NAEL8.1.1319
“Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women” NAEL8.1.1317
Andrew Marvell, Upon Appleton House NAEL8.1.1716
William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night


Geoffrey Chaucer, The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale NAEL8.1.256
Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe NAEL8.1.383
Mary Astell, Some Reflections upon Marriage NAEL8.1.2285
Daniel Defoe, Roxana NAEL8.1.2289
Doris Lessing, To Room Nineteen NAEL8.2.2543

Gender, Family, Household: Seventeenth-Century Norms and Controversies provides an introduction to early seventeenth-century assumptions and debates about gender roles and the patriarchal family. Selections drawn from English law, the marriage ceremony and advice books can be compared and contrasted with the representation of marriage in the works of Spenser, Donne, Jonson, Wroth, Milton, and Webster. A glimpse of life in the country houses of the Sidney and Clifford families provides illuminating background to "country house poems" such as Jonson's To Penshurst, Lanyer's The Description of Cooke-Ham, and Marvell's Upon Appleton House. The vehement denunciations of cross-dressing included here will open a new perspective on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Finally, students will have the opportunity to compare seventeenth-century beliefs about marriage and divorce with perspectives from other eras, from Chaucer and Margery Kempe in the medieval period to Mary Astell and Daniel Defoe after the Restoration, and Doris Lessing in the Twentieth Century.

Paradise Lost in Context

John Milton, Paradise Lost NAEL8.1.1830
Aemilia Lanyer, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum


  [Eve's Apology in Defense of Women] NAEL8.1.1317
Joseph Addison, Paradise Lost: General Critical Remarks


Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Poets [Milton] NAEL8.1.2768
William Blake NAEL8.2.76
Percy Bysshe Shelley NAEL8.2.741
George Gordon, Lord Byron


Paradise Lost in Context offers a copious selection of sources, parallels, and responses to Milton's radically revisionist epic. The texts and illustrations, which include a gallery of paintings of the Genesis story, invite readers to examine how Paradise Lost engages with interpretative traditions, how it uses classical myth, how it challenges orthodox notions of Edenic innocence, and how it is positioned within but also against epic conventions. The selection of images and interpretations of the Fall will shed light on Aemilia Lanyer's depiction of Eve as well as Milton's. Marvell's response to Milton's epic, included here, invites comparison with the later comments of Joseph Addison and Samuel Johnson, while the selections from Blake, Shelley, and Byron invite consideration of the centrality of Milton's epic and his Satanic hero to Romantic thought.

Civil Wars of Ideas: Seventeenth-Century Politics, Religion, and Culture

Andrew Marvell NAEL8.1.1695
  especially An Horatian Ode


John Milton, Areopagitica NAEL8.1.1816
Robert Herrick NAEL8.1.1653
Richard Crashaw NAEL8.1.1639
Henry Vaughan NAEL8.1.1625
Richard Lovelace


Civil Wars of Ideas: Seventeenth-Century Politics, Religion, and Culture provides an opportunity to explore, through political and polemical treatises and striking images, some of the issues and conflicts that led to civil war and the overthrow of monarchical government (1642–60). This section will allow students to consider the impact of these conflicts on the writers whose lives they touched, such as Herrick, Crashaw, Vaughan, Marvell, Walton, and Lovelace, as well as Milton. Pictures and accounts of the trial and execution of Charles I provide the basis for comparisons with Andrew Marvell's depiction of these events in An Horatian Ode. Roger Williams' argument for absolute religious toleration should be read alongside Milton's defense of a free press in Areopagitica, published in the same year.

Emigrants and Settlers

Francis Bacon, Of Plantations NAEL8.1.1557
Andrew Marvell, Bermudas NAEL8.1.1686
John Donne, Elegy 19. To His Mistress Going to Bed


Ben Jonson, The Masque of Blackness


Elizabeth Cary, The Tragedy of Mariam NAEL8.1.1537
John Milton, Paradise Lost NAEL8.1.1830

Emigrants and Settlers offers further perspectives on the key issues of colonization and cultural contact in the period. The topic cluster enables students to compare the realities of English "plantations" in Ireland and the New World with the ideological visions of Bacon and Marvell, and to consider how major figures like Donne and Jonson were implicated in these projects. The seventeenth-century fascination with Jews and ancient Israelites, found in Cary, Winstanley, and Milton among others, is illuminated by a selection of controversial passages bearing on the readmission of Jews to England.

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