ENG 200 English Literary Tradition I

Douglas Patey, M W F 11:00 AM-12:10 PM

The English Literary Tradition provides a historical survey of the development of English literature from its beginnings in the oral poetry of ancient Germanic tribes to its emergence in the 20th–century as a vast international heritage of many genres, cultures, and peoples.

We will explore the main stages in the growth of this tradition—Medieval, Renaissance, and Augustan—during the first semester; Romantic, Victorian, and Modern during the second. Readings from these periods will be selected according to two criteria: 1) works that were influential, that later writers admired, imitated, and responded to, and sometimes reacted against; and 2) works that are representative, that we consider to be especially fine examples of their author or period or genre.

These works are not idols to adore or carcasses to dissect, but composed of living words, images, stories, and ideas that moved the people who wrote and read them, that expressed their deepest fears and ideals, which they found beautiful or shocking or profound, which gave meaning to their lives. In the midst of our general overview, we will strive to be close, careful, and perceptive readers of these works, to try to understand them as they themselves were understood in their own time and place, and to see them anew in our own time. We will note connections from one author to the next and observe generic conventions, allusions, verse forms, and rhetorical devices as these developed from native English or from continental and classical traditions.

One of the chief joys of this course is the opportunity it provides to discover authors, periods, or genres that can be explored in further courses and in one's own reading. We trust that students will come to see the English literary tradition both in its continuity and in its originality, not as a narrow selection of approved texts but as a rich and potent source of new images, new forms and insights, fresh and striking eloquence, and dramatic new ways of looking at the world. This course is particularly useful for those planning to teach at the secondary (or higher) level and for those seeking a general overview of English literature.

The syllabus for the fall term will include readings in the Old English epic poem Beowulf, Chaucer, Spenser, Renaissance sonnets, 17th–century lyric poetry, Milton, Pope, Swift, and Johnson.

Text: The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 9th ed., vol. 1.


Requirements: class participation, several short essays, a mid-term exam and a final exam.