Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Literature Before 1660

ENGL 020.301
instructor(s):
TR 4:30-6:00 pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 3: Early Literature to 1660 of the Standard Major

This course will survey eight hundred years of literature in England, from dark and thorny Anglo-Saxon poems and riddles to the comparatively ultramodern Paradise Lost. Rather than try to make our way across that expanse in any single straight line, our reading will take us along a number of itineraries, some companionably parallel and some in fraught tension with each other: the development of English as a literary language from its earliest moments; the continuities and cataclysms of religious controversy; the rise of England as an imperial power, and the geopolitical and racial discourses that attend it; shifting understandings of gender, sexuality, and kinship. Readings will include a range of poetry, prose, and drama in Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, and modern English, from the visionary “Dream of the Rood” to the deeply strange romance Gawain and the Green Knight; from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to the plays and poems of Shakespeare; from the medieval mystical texts of Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich to the erotic and devotional lyrics of Thomas Wyatt, John Donne, and Katherine Philips. Throughout we will develop our understanding of these threads through close textual analysis, honing the skills associated with literary critical practice. Assignments will include short essays and two open-book take-home exams.