This course introduces students to a
selection of literature that is both compelling and fundamental in the context
of the development of British culture. The readings will focus on a collection
of both oral and written genres covering vital trends in British history and
literature: paganism, chivalry, empire, the growth of urban life with
middle-class mercantilism, and changing conceptions of power as it occupied
different sites, sometimes simultaneously, of the monarchy, the military, and the
church. We’ll consider, especially, the appearance of the “common reader” (to
cite Virginia Woolf), who, though new to this historical era, was growing more
literate with time, and less accepting of the traditionally rigid hierarchies
of English society.
The works we will read (in excerpted,
modern-English-friendly versions) run the historical breadth from the orally transmitted
BEOWULF, to the English “take” on French chivalry, SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN
KNIGHT, to class- and gender- relevant excerpts from Chaucer’s CANTERBURY
TALES. Gender, class and race will continue to concern us in Shakespeare’s
OTHELLO, and Aphra Behn’s controversial OROONOKO. We’ll sample
an early Romantic in William Blake, and end with Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND
PREJUDICE, which, though “only a novel” (as its author might have satirically
described it) set the course of a new genre that dominated the British scene–and
influenced much of literature today.
From its mythical beginnings to the recognizable,
almost familiar standards, the works we cover should give students an
interesting overview and comprehension of British literature, its ongoing
relevance and its historical, socio-cultural and psychological influence on
what we read today (both academically and casually).
Evaluation will be based on three papers, a midterm,
and a take-home final essay exam. Miscellaneous in-class writing assignments
will gauge students’ understanding of their class readings. Participation and
attendance will count toward the final grade.
Texts: TBA. Possibly online or in CourseReader form.