This course explores the early history of English literature, from Anglo-Saxon England to the early seventeenth century. For many generations, literary works from this period were considered the “foundation” of English literature. In this class, we will read both major and marginalized texts from medieval and Early Modern England not as a stable “foundation” but as part of a dynamic process of “making” literary culture in a period that witnessed many significant changes in language, culture, religion, and technology. These include the emergence of English as a literary language, the expansion of the reading public, changes in the technologies and materials of literary production, religious crisis and change, and shifts in the scale of English reading communities and the world they knew. These changes influenced the idea of literature itself — that is, how literature was defined in relationship to other kinds of writing — as well as its cultural value and social use. They also influenced some of the central themes and concerns we will chart in medieval and Early Modern literature: the nature of the self in relationship to forms of human community and the natural world; love, desire, and modes of affiliation; gender roles and other social norms; religious devotion and dissent; England’s mythical past and its place in an expanding world. Reading across many different genres — lyric poetry, epic, romance, prose fiction, drama — we will pay special attention to the role of literary form in expressing and shaping these themes, in order to help us better understand the cultural work of literature in the premodern period — and in our own.
This class is designed to help students develop competence in reading literature historically, in close analysis of literary texts, including the ability to analyze their form, and in writing about literary texts. Although our focus is on reading and writing about literature, these skills in analysis and argumentative writing are broadly useful in other academic contexts and beyond.
Course texts: Broadview Anthology of British Literature
Requirements for this class include a weekly reading quiz, two short papers (5-7 pp), and a midterm and final exam.
This class is designed for English majors and other students interested in a historical survey of English literature. There are no prerequisites.
Lecture and discussion sections