MEMS 350 - Literature in English to 1660
Section: 001 Major Works of English Literature
Term: FA 2018
Subject: Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS)
Department: LSA History
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May not be repeated for credit.
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In Leviathan (1651), the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes warned that life could easily be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” In the first 1000 years of English literature, this was in fact the lot of the vast majority of the population. How did these “have-nots” challenge the cruel and unequal conditions of their existence? How did the “haves” respond—repression, indifference, accommodation, guilt, repentance, etc.? We’ll consider literary accounts of a number of such antagonisms that pit insider against outsider—human vs. monster or animal, young vs. old, beauty vs. ugliness, man vs. woman, upper class vs. lower, white vs. black, colonizer vs. colonized, king vs. people, religious orthodoxy vs. heterodoxy, and so on.

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 and significance of various literary genres (primarily, 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 two major figures—Chaucer (selections from The Canterbury Tales), and Shakespeare (selected sonnets and Othello). But we’ll also read two leading anonymous works—Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. These texts will be supplemented and contextualized by briefer looks at a number of other important figures—Marie de France, Langland, More, Renaissance lyric poets from Wyatt to Donne, Bacon, Hobbes, Winstanley, and Milton, among others.

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, Volumes A and B.

Course Requirements:

About 15 pages of writing; no final.

Class Format:

Two lectures and one section per week.

MEMS 350 - Literature in English to 1660
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
TuTh 10:00AM - 11:30AM
002 (DIS)
F 1:00PM - 2:00PM
003 (DIS)
F 11:00AM - 12:00PM
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