This course is a general introduction to the study of English literature. By focusing on some key texts from the English Renaissance, Romanticism, and the modern period, I will try to give you a sense of the shape of the history of literature written in English. I will also keep generally in view the context of social history within which literature evolves over this period.
We will start with what I consider to be the pivotal period in modern history, around 1800, when European civilization (note: this includes the U.S.) began its final, fateful movement toward the world as we know it today. Science, industrialization, globalization, urbanization, democratic revolution, skepticism about Christianity: all of these forces are gathering around 1800. We will approach our discussion of these large historical forces through the spiritual and literary reaction to them that is called Romanticism. We will study a few paragraphs of prose and a few poems by the English poet Wordsworth (1770-1850) as a sample of the most fundamental concerns of the Romantics.
Then we will go back in time to the English Renaissance (around 1600) to read a play and poems by Shakespeare. I’m not starting with this period, even though it’s earlier, because I want you to have the Romantic texts already in mind as something with which to compare and contrast the Renaissance texts.
Poetry, even when it looks simple, requires very slow, very careful reading, and then multiple re-readings. Otherwise you retain practically nothing from it. Thus we will devote a lot of attention to a small number of poems in the first half of the course.
Important: you should bring to class whatever text we’re studying, and you should follow along in your own text when I read from it. Most students find it helpful to mark the passages being discussed, and to make marginal notes. When you speak in class about a text, and especially when you write about one, you will be expected to make frequent, precise reference to the exact wording of that text as the basis for your remarks or questions. Vagueness is your worst enemy, and mine.
There will be a mid-term exam and a final. The mid-term will be given at your regular lecture session at the end of the sixth week of the quarter, your final during your final lecture hour. No early exams will be given.
The exams will each count for 30 per cent of your grade. The other 40 per cent will come from five 2 page papers that you will write for your discussion section. Each of these papers will concentrate on one or a few paragraphs of a prose work, or on a single short poem or crucial passage of a longer literary work. I will give you precise instructions on the writing of each of these papers as it comes up, every two weeks.
Note: All the readings for the first few weeks of the course are contained in the course packet, which will be available at Ram’s Copy Center, 4144 University Way.
We will also read Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. These texts are available at the University Book Store. You are encouraged to get your hands on the editions I have ordered; the Shakespeare and the Conrad are Norton Critical Editions that contain literary critical essays that you will need to read for this class. The Achebe volume does not contain such additional readings, but if you don’t have the same edition you will not be able to follow along in class when I discuss specific passages. (You might be able to find used copies of these same editions online.)