This class is a one-year study of British literature, a look at some of the greatest works of literature from the early Middle Ages through the twentieth century. Despite covering over a thousand years of literature, we will not be racing through an anthology of short, detached little snippets of books. Instead, we will be taking a smaller number of the most important and representative works of literature in various genres and studying them carefully and in detail, focusing on close and careful reading rather than merely attaining a superficial familiarity with these works. The first half of the year will be focused on early British literature, the great stories of the Middle Ages and the poetry and drama of the Renaissance, concluding with Milton’s Paradise Lost. After the new year, we’ll return with a look at the growth of the modern sensibility and outlook, focusing principally on poetry and the birth of the novel.
British Literature (Fall 2012 - Spring 2013)
Beowulf – translated by Dirk Ringler
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - translated by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Merchant of Venice – William Shakespeare
Macbeth – William Shakespeare
Paradise Lost – John Milton
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
The Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde
The “Great Books” are the most influential works of literature in our cultural heritage. These are the works that attempt to tackle life’s big questions: What does it mean to be a human being? What is our place in the universe? How should we live? We all need to consider these questions in our own lives, and the Great Books help us to avoid “reinventing the wheel.” In this course, students will become acquainted with most of the major authors from the ancient world through A.D. 1300 and take them through important poems, plays, and prose works that have had an enormous impact on our culture. No prior exposure to the Great Books is required or expected, and all works will be read in English translation.
Great Books I (Fall 2012 - Spring 2013)
King James Version of The Bible (any will do)
The Aeneid - Virgil, translated Robert Fagles
Inferno - Dante, translated by Anthony Esolen
Antigone – Sophocles
Three Plays of Euripides: Alcestis, Medea, The Bachae – Euripides
Four Texts on Socrates - Plato and Aristophanes
In this course, students will read Tolkien’s two critical essays, Beowulf, and The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings to explore how his world and his myth developed over time. There are three interim exams, one on the essays and Beowulf, one on The Silmarillion, one on The Hobbit, plus a two-hour final exam on The Lord of the Rings. Each exam builds on the one before it. All are open book, open notes. The goal is not to test your memory, but to get you to think deeply and critically about the material and the relationships among the works. You should know more at the end of each exam than you did before you started.
Tolkien's World of Middle-earth (Spring 2013)