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2018/19 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

ITAL3375 A Year With 366 Days: A Journey Through Petrarch's Canzoniere

20 creditsClass Size: 20

Module manager: Dr Federica Pich

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2018/19

Pre-requisite qualifications

A good reading knowledge of Italian



This module is mutually exclusive with

ITAL3380A Year With 366 Days: A Journey Through Petrarch's Canzonier

Module replaces


This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

In the company of Dante Alighieri and Giovanni Boccaccio, Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), commonly known as Petrarch in the English-speaking world, stands out as a key figure in the history of Italian language, literature and culture. In his famous Canzoniere he tells a passionate story of love, death and repentance by carefully arranging the scattered fragments of his inner life into a clever sequence of 366 poems, brought to perfection through decades of tormented rewriting. The influence Petrarch exerted over generations of European poets, from Ronsard to Shakespeare, was immense, while the popularity of his book largely exceeded the limited realm of literature and was involved in a range of different social and cultural practices. The so-called 'petrarchino' (a handy, 'pocket edition' of the Canzoniere) was widely read and imitated by professional and amateur poets, but also exhibited as a fashionable object, treasured by refined noblewomen as well as by witty courtesans - a fate his austere creator would have probably never imagined. This module, based on a weekly interaction of close readings and wider discussions, will take students on a fascinating journey through the Canzoniere and its Renaissance fortune. It will analyse Petrarch's texts in detail and provide multiple insights into the most intriguing issues raised by his book, such as the innovative relationship between lyric and narrative features, the problematic role of the beloved (a real, flesh-and-blood woman or a mere poetic invention?), and the attentive mixture of life and fiction in the lover's autobiographic attitude. The module will also focus on the Canzoniere as social and cultural model, addressing themes such as the function of occasional verse in courts and the relationship between Renaissance poetry and portraiture. Critical engagement with secondary literature will be encouraged in class on a regular basis and will be necessary to complete assessed tasks.All texts will be read and studied in the original Italian, even though English translations will be provided. A good reading knowledge of Italian is therefore essential to undertake this module.


The module aims to introduce students to Petrarch's Canzoniere, one of the most influential works in the history of Italian and European poetry. The book will be read in the original Italian and discussed not only as a key literary model but also as a cultural object involved in social rituals and practices, with particular reference to Renaissance courts. This double focus will allow students to acquire specific knowledge and analytical skills and to engage critically with secondary literature, while developing a wider historical and critical awareness of the contexts of poetic production and reception from the medieval to the early modern age.

Learning outcomes
On completion of the module, student should be able to:

- analyse Petrarch’s Canzoniere and locate it in the wider context of his works;
- comment in detail on the structure, style and language of the Canzoniere;
- discuss the Canzoniere as a key model in the history of Italian and European literature and culture;
- reflect critically on the relationship between the fashion of 'Petrarchism' and different social and cultural contexts;
- demonstrate full awareness of the differences between medieval, Renaissance and modern poetry;
- discuss medieval, Renaissance and modern notions of 'autobiographic' writing.

Skills outcomes
On completion of the module, students should be able to:
- read and understand different kinds of poetic texts, written in Italian;
- analyse poetic texts in terms of content and style and comment on them in detail;
- identify and interpret the essential tools of medieval and Renaissance poetry (metre, tropes, codes and genres);
- compare texts from different times and recognize them as part of the same tradition;
- understand and discuss how cultural models are transmitted;
- demonstrate awareness of the connections between cultural objects and social practices;
- discuss the permeability between high-brow and middle-brow cultural realms;
- reflect on the role of codes and stereotypes in literary representations, social rituals and behaviours;
- reflect on the main issues involved in the translation of poetry from one language to another;
- demonstrate familiarity with the basic methods and tools of research, building on the close observation of research-led teaching;
- gather, select and elaborate information from secondary readings;
- communicate effectively, with clarity and confidence, both orally and in writing;
- use IT effectively, both in terms of learning and in terms of communication;
- take personal responsibility for their own learning.


Can a love story be told in a sequence of poems? Can feelings be expressed in codified forms? How can literary models fashion identities and behaviours? This module will explore these and other major issues, focusing on Petrarch's Canzoniere, one of the most influential works in the history of Italian and European poetry. The first section of the module will introduce students to the book and its main themes, such as the opposition between desire and repentance, and the tension between the love for a woman and the love for poetry. The Canzoniere tells the story of the poet’s tormented love for Laura and of his spiritual rebirth after her death, through a sequence of 366 poems, whose utter, seemingly natural perfection was achieved through years of patient revision. The module will also examine how the external world enters the Canzoniere, in the shape of remote landscapes or references to history, and how the interior realm is voiced in poems – a double movement in which representation is mediated by a captivating pattern of recurring words and metaphors. The second part of the module will discuss the role of Petrarch in the Italian poetic tradition as well as an in a European perspective.

1 Introduction to Petrarch and the Canzoniere.
2 A story in fragments: the (true) fiction of an exemplary autobiography.
3 Laura and the laurel: in the name of love or for the sake of poetry?
4 Outside the self: beauty, nature, and history.
5 Inside the self: blessing and despair.
6 After Petrarch. The Canzoniere as a social and cultural model.
7 Great Renaissance poets and the Canzoniere.
8 If 'she' were 'I'. The quiet revolution of female Petrarchism.
9 Around the 'petrarchino': sonnets, books and portraits.
10 Conclusion and revision.

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours180.00
Total Contact hours20.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Reading of set texts and secondary literature in preparation for lectures/seminars: 130 hours.
Preparation, research and writing for two essays: 44 hours.
Preparation for seminar presentation: 6 hours.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Progress will be monitored through weekly tasks (answers or short commentaries to be posted in the VLE, collective recapitulation, class discussion). Students will receive detailed feedback on their first essay (2,500 words) and on the presentation (10 minutes).
Support and advice on the preparation of essays and presentations will be provided both in class and in dedicated office hours.

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1x 2,500 words43.00
Oral Presentation1x 10 minutes14.00
Essay1x 2,500 words43.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 13/11/2018 09:25:39


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