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EH 205: British Literature I

EH 205 aims to expose you to the literature of Britain from the Middle Ages to the later seventeenth century. While we might wonder why literature from such a tiny island warrants attention at all, we must remember that the English that we speak disseminated from that small place to become a lingua franca. In the literature of this early period in Britain, we witness English maturing from a crude vernacular, derided in a country whose elite spoke mainly Latin and French, to a national language embraced by all levels of society. Towards the end of our period of study—in the so-called “age of discovery”—English moves to the far reaches of the world (at that time) on its way to becoming a world language. This short summer session, rather than immersing ourselves in hundreds of excerpts of works in an anthology, we will look at four representative texts spanning nine hundred years of British literary history.

Course Links



BW= Beowulf

CT= The Canterbury Tales


Date      In-class activity (homework [HW] listed below date)

Jun. 24 Review syllabus, dates, books; Anglo-Saxon England, “Caedmon’s Hymn

HW: Read BW pp. 126-128 “The Manuscript Context” and pp.138-141 “The Wanderer” and (on ANGEL) “Dream of the Rood”; also begin Beowulf poem lines 1-870


Jun. 25 “Dream of the Rood”, “The Wanderer”, begin Beowulf

HW: pp. 91-95 excerpts from The Bible and Tacitus; Read BW poem lines 870-1671


Jun. 26 Beowulf

HW: Read BW finish poem


Jun. 27 Beowulf

HW: Read BW pp. 200-217 “From Grettir’s Saga” and pp. 183-91 “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle excerpts and Anglo-Saxon Law excerpts”


Jul. 1 Finish Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon Literature

HW: study for exam


Jul. 2 Beowulf Exam

HW: Read CT “General Prologue” and “Introduction” to Boccaccio's Decameron  (on ANGEL)


Jul. 3 Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales, "General Prologue" and Boccaccio

HW: read "The Knight's Tale" and "The Miller's Prologue and Tale"


Jul. 4 no class


Jul. 8 finish “The Knight’s Tale; 

HW: Read CT "Miller's Prologue and Tale" and "The Reeve's Prologue and Tale"


Jul. 9 “The Miller's Tale" and "The Reeve's Tale”

HW: Read CT "The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale"


Jul. 10 "Wife of Bath's Prologue and  Tale"

HW: Read CT "The Physician's Tale" and "The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale"


Jul. 11 "The Physician's Tale" and "The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale"

HW: Read Decameron Day 1 Story 1 (on ANGEL) and "The Friar's Prologue and Tale"


Jul. 15 Decameron  and "The Friar's Prologue and Tale"

HW: Study for exam


Jul 16. Chaucer Exam

HW: Read MB Acts I and II


Jul. 17 Macbeth

HW: Read MB Acts III and IV


Jul. 18 Macbeth

HW: Read MB Act V and “An Homily of Disobedience and Willfull Rebellion” and “A Defense of Disobedience and Tyrannicide” (on ANGEL)


Jul. 22 Macbeth; begin Scotland PA


Jul. 23 Scotland PA


Final Exam (on Macbeth material only): Friday July 26 8-10:30am