MEMS 350 - Literature in English to 1660
Section: 001
Term: FA 2017
Subject: Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS)
Department: LSA History
Other Course Info:
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

How did England become England—geographically, genetically, culturally, politically? Why is there such a thing as English literature? Why do we speak and read the language of one set of conquerors of England, the Anglo-Saxons, rather than of any of the others—the Celts, the Romans, or the Norman French?

And more particularly, what is English literature? Is it:

  1. literature written by English subjects, regardless of location;
  2. literature written in English, regardless of location;
  3. literature written by the English, regardless of language; or
  4. literature written in England, Britain, what is now the UK, or the British Isles, regardless of language?

We will assess the relative strength of these various claims by tracing how English literature came to be English literature. This will require attention to the relationship of the English language to other languages; to social, economic, and political conditions over the course of a millennium; and to ecological changes, most notably catastrophic ones like the Black Death, the epidemic depopulating of the Americas, and the Little Ice Age. Throughout, the aim is to define the nature of various literary genres (for instance, epic, romance, lyric, and drama), in relation to the cultures and societies from which they emerge (tribal, courtly/feudal, urban commercial, revolutionary Protestant, etc.).

The focus will be on the writings of three major figures—Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (selections), Shakespeare’s sonnets and King Lear, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. We will also consider three shorter works—Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Thomas More’s Utopia. And a brief look at texts in other Western European languages of the time—Irish, Welsh, French, and Italian—will help define the specificity, the trajectory, and the significance of English literature.

This class is designed to help students develop competence in reading literature historically, in close analysis of literary texts, and in analytical and argumentative writing. Although our focus is on reading and writing about literature, these skills are broadly useful in other academic contexts and beyond.

Course text: Norton Anthology of English Literature, vol. 1

Department major: This course satisfies both the pre-1642 and poetry requirements.

Course Requirements:

Five short papers or exercises (3-4 pages each)

Intended Audience:

This class is designed for English majors and other students interested in a historical survey of English literature. There are no prerequisites.

Class Format:

Lecture and discussion sections

MEMS 350 - Literature in English to 1660
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
TuTh 11:30AM - 1:00PM
002 (DIS)
F 1:00PM - 2:00PM
003 (DIS)
F 11:00AM - 12:00PM
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