MEMS 350 - Literature in English to 1660
Fall 2021, Section 001 - Nature and Empire
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: Medieval and Early Modern Studies (MEMS)
Department: LSA History
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This is a course in the first thousand years of the literature of Britain (7th-17th century). Although we will consider a wide range of topics, the through-line will be human interactions with other aspects of the natural world—from microbes (the Black Death), through animals both real and supernatural, to climate (the Little Ice Age). How do writers understand our relation to this larger environmental setting, a setting that always impinges on society, often in inhospitable ways?

To address this question, we will also consider social, economic, and political conditions over the course of a millennium. 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? We’ll consider literary accounts of a number of such antagonisms that pit insider against outsider—human vs. monster, young vs. old, man vs. woman, upper class vs. lower, king vs. people, religious orthodoxy vs. heterodoxy.

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.).

Most of our texts are from Old, Middle, and Early Modern English. But we will also briefly consider relevant literature in Welsh, Anglo-Norman (a version of Old French), and Italian, to pursue ecological and social concerns as well as to answer another question: how did the literature of Britain become English literature?

Readings—the Mabinogion (Welsh, selections), Beowulf, Marie de France’s Lais (French, selections), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Boccaccio’s Decameron (selections), Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (selections), Renaissance lyric poetry, and Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Course Requirements:

Requirements: 3 short papers and a brief oral presentation; no final exam.


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

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