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Literature Before 1660

ENGL 020.301
instructor(s):
fulfills requirements:
Sector 3: Early Literature to 1660 of the Standard Major

This course surveys the literature produced in England from eighth until seventeenth centuries. Reading across a variety of generic forms (drama, prose, long and short poems) we will attend to the linguistic, religious and economic changes that marked this period. Of particular interest to us will be changing ideas of the English language and England itself. Beginning with excerpts from Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, we will contemplate Britain's subordinate relationship to a series of empires in the many centuries before the formation of an empire of its own. Old English lyrics figure the isolation and desolate seafaring life in the British Isles in the years of Viking raids after the retreat of Roman colonial power. Centuries later, after the Norman conquest of England, poetic works hearken a mythic English past (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) and reveal England's often marginal role in a larger Europe (in stories told by Chaucer's pilgrims, whose plots and poetic forms are often borrowed from other European traditions). As we enter the early modern period, writers show a widening range of relationships to England: More's imaginative political allegory is set not in England but 'no-place' (Utopia), while Milton's Paradise Lost displays a new confidence on English as the proper language for for his universe- and history-spanning epic. Meanwhile, in Shakespeare's The Tempest, we will look for the beginning of an imperial imagination, a “brave new world” of Britain as colonial power, not a colonized territory.