Small Circle of Friends: A Topic in Renaissance Literature


The love poetry of the Renaissance is famous, and justly so. But 16th- and 17th-century writers also thought a great deal about friendship, fellowship, and community—and about the settings in which such relationships might thrive. This course looks at some versions of living together—as best friends, in the idyllic setting of a country house, or in the ideal society—set forth in a variety of texts from classical antiquity and the Renaissance. What does it mean to call a friend “a second self”? Do men and women envision friendship differently? How did the country and the city turn into ideological opposites? These are some of the questions raised by our reading: poems by Horace, Juvenal, Martial, Aemilia Lanyer, Katherine Phillips, Spenser, Ben Jonson, and others; essays of Erasmus, Montaigne, and Francis Bacon; Thomas More’s Utopia; the Abbey of Thélème (from Rabelais’ Gargantua); Shakespeare’s Henry IV and The Tempest.