English | Literatures in English to 1600
E301 | 6780 | Bonnie Erwin

Bonnie Erwin

6780 - 10:10a-11:00a MWF (30 students) 3 cr. A&H.

Open to majors and declared minors only.

TOPIC:  "Finding the Self: Individuals and Societies in English
Literature to 1600"

In the early twenty-first century, we tend to think of writing as a
very personal experience -- as an expression of the authorís self
and the relation of that self to society.  Likewise, we often
imagine reading as an activity that helps to shape the readerís
personal identity.  Many readers look for characters or plots we can
relate to, and we use our relationship to the text to think about
how we should situate ourselves in relation to society or to major
cultural issues of our day.  But to what extent can these models of
reading and writing help us to understand literature from the
distant past, and in particular literature that predates the
Enlightenment notion of the perpetual tension between individual
desires and collective interests?

In this course, we will read a range of literature produced in
Britain from c. 1000 to 1600.  We will focus on the topic of the
self in society, looking how authors construct a personal sense of
self, how they promote various notions of the self for readers, and
how they reflect and shape contemporary cultural standards for the
ideal self or the ideal society.  We will pay particular attention
to the ways in which historical developments influence the priority
placed on the individual or on the collective, and we will
investigate the various ways in which these categories are imagined
as competing or cooperating.

By the end of the term, you will be conversant with a range of major
authors and texts that are key to the artistic lineage of more
recent authors writing in English.  You will also be able to
articulate the importance of historical context for these authors
and works -- a key element for understanding how and why the
attitudes promoted or critiqued in these texts can seem at once so
familiar and so alien to present-day readers.  Finally, you will
have gained practice in writing about older texts, incorporating
both analysis of literary form and elements of historical context.
We will pursue these goals through two major papers, two exams, and
several shorter writing assignments.