Course Group I – Literature before the Mid-17th Century


Literary History I: Literature up to the mid-Seventeenth Century

This course will provide an overview of English literature from the Anglo-Saxon period through the Middle Ages and into the seventeenth century. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.


Old English and Scandinavian Epic and Saga

An introduction both to Old English literature and to Old Norse sagas, setting "Beowulf" and poems like "The Wanderer" and "The Wife's Lament" in their North Sea/ North Atlantic context.  We will learn just enough Old English to enable us to read, translate, and savor some of the original poetry and to become savvy readers of the modern translations. Sagas will include "Völsunga," "The Saga of the People of Laxardal," and "Hrolf Kraki" (in translation). Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.


Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales

An introduction to Chaucer, concentrating on ten of the Canterbury Tales, and studying him as a social critic and literary artist. Special attention will be paid to Chaucer's language, the sounds of Middle English, and the implications of verse written for the ear. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.


Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and Other Poems

A study of Chaucer's major works other than the Canterbury Tales, focusing on some of the early dream visions (Book of the Duchess, House of Fame) and Troilus and Criseyde, which many consider to be the greatest love epic in the English language. Some attention will be given to the French and Italian context of these works (in translation). No familiarity with Middle English is required. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.


Medieval English Literature

An introduction to the literature of the "Middle English" period (ca. 1100- ca. 1500), concentrating on the emergence of English as a literary language in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries and on some of the great masterworks of the late fourteenth century. Readings will include early texts on King Arthur, the Lais of Marie de France, the satirical poem The Owl and the Nightingale, the romance Sir Orfeo, Pearl, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Book of Margery Kempe, and The York Cycle. Most readings in modern English translation, with some explorations into the original language. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.



A study of about ten plays spanning Shakespeare's career, including comedies, histories, tragedies, and romances. Attention will be paid to Shakespeare's language; to his dramatic practices and theatrical milieu; and to the social, political, and philosophical issues raised by the action of the plays. Videotapes will supplement the reading. Exercises in close reading and interpretative papers. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.


Renaissance Drama

A study of commercial theater in London from about 1570 until the closing of the theaters in 1642. Anonymous and collaborative plays will be read as well as those by such playwrights as Kyd, Marlowe, Dekker, Jonson, Webster, and Ford. The course will focus on the economic, social, political, intellectual, and theatrical conditions in which the plays were originally produced, on their continuing performance, and on their status as literary texts. Research into the performance history of a play or participation in a scene production is required. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.



No poet has had more influence on the subsequent literature and culture of England than John Milton. Therefore no English major can be considered complete without close attention to his poetry and prose. Milton was a philosopher, dramatist, political pamphleteer, theologian, and controversialist in addition to being the author of Paradise Lost, generally considered to be the greatest poetic achievement in English.

Students in English 17 shall

  • Become expertly alert readers of Milton's major poems and prose
  • Develop a critical familiarity with ongoing professional discussions in Milton studies, including historical studies relating to Milton's first appearances in print
  • Join one or more threads of that professional discussion with a significant contribution to the understanding and interpretation of some aspect of Milton studies

Writing assignments for this course are scaffolded: a review of recent criticism, a close reading of a poem or portion of a play, and a 9-page paper suitable for delivery at a conference. The best essays will be submitted to the annual Medieval/Renaissance Forum at Keene State University.

Text for this course: The John Milton Reading Room Links to an external site.)

Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.


Poetry, Prose, and Drama of the English Restoration, 1660-1689

Together, we shall study poetry, prose and drama written and performed during the reign of the last two Stuart kings, Charles II and James II. No period of English literature is so deeply and even obsessively concerned with both politics and religion. This makes the verse, drama and prose of John Dryden, Andrew Marvell, John Milton and John Bunyan particularly interesting. We will also take time for some comedies typical of the period by William Wycherly and William Congreve, and study Aphra Behn's masterpiece, Oroonoko. There will be two areas of special attention:  the theater and the literary responses to public events, such as the Great Plague and Fire of 1666, the Popish Plot, and the Exclusion Crisis.

Students who successfully complete English 18 will

  • Become conversant with some of the ways English politics and religion were negotiated in the verse, drama, and prose of the Restoration period
  • Learn how to find and evaluate the professional published conversation about Restoration literature and culture
  • Take part in that conversation by composing an essay suitable for delivery at an academic conference
  • Make some portion of Restoration poetry their own by memorizing 20 lines or so of a poem or dramatic verse, recite it to the class and answer questions about its genre, meaning and art

Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.


Early American Literature: Writing, Resistance, and (digital) Revolution

This course explores a multicultural history of the technologies of "writing" in North America from 1500-1800. We study three strands of that history (the pre-Columbian world; conquest and religion; European settler colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade) by focusing on four figures: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Samson Occom, and Phillis Wheatley. All used writing in different ways to make "revolutions." Finally, we consider and contribute to the recent turn to digital archives of Early America. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.


Special Topics in Course Group I: Medieval and Renaissance Literature

These courses are offered periodically with varying content: one or more individual writers, a genre, or an approach to the literature of this historical period not otherwise provided in the English curriculum. Requirements will include papers and, at the discretion of the instructor, examinations. Enrollment is limited to 30. Dist: LIT.

ENGL 51.01

Plays, Playing and Publicity

We will read plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries including Marlowe, Dekker, Heywood, Jonson and others. Rather than considering them primarily as authored, literary texts, however, we will investigate them as products of a professional and commercial system--not unlike Hollywood--and as popular media in an age without journalism. Plays will be grouped in clusters that foreground roughly contemporary texts and/or performances in dialogue and competition with each other. Readings will also address the physical and social spaces of performance and the controversies about theater. Students interested in twentieth-century productions of early modern plays or more general twentieth-century issues of media and performance are welcome. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.

ENGL 51.02

Shakespeare's King Lear and Macbeth: Text and Film

This course offers students the luxury of focusing exclusively on just two of Shakespeare's tragedies­–King Lear and Macbeth–which constitute the final two of Shakespeare's most famous four tragedies. Over the past 10 years, there have been no fewer than three major films made of each play, the latest being the brand new Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbinder. That each play still invites yet another way of imagining the play suggests both the suspicion that maybe the play hasn't yet been done right, and simultaneously the sense that these two plays offer some kind of especially important statement for audiences. This class will focus on all such issues, textual and film production-oriented. There will be two papers and one final project. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.

ENGL 51.04

Stories At the Edge of the World: Conquest and Contact in the Age of Shakespeare

When did the world become global? Living an age of commerce and contact, the writers of Shakespeare's England were also diplomats, explorers, soldiers, colonizers, and cosmopolitans. They composed poems and plays with one hand and foreign dispatches with the other, each time wondering at the encounters and tensions of a rapidly expanding world. In this course, we'll explore stories of borderlands, wildernesses, colonies, voyages, and migration. As we read widely in literature and travel narratives—including Shakespeare's defense of refugees from the forgotten play, Sir Thomas More—we'll consider what borderlands offer the early modern imagination and what they looked like in reality. Along the way, we'll be challenged to consider how we tell stories about marginalized people and contested spaces in our own rapidly globalizing time. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.

ENGL 51.13

Gender and Power in Shakespeare

The course will begin by defining the varieties of power inscribed in Shakespeare's plays, and proceed to explore the following questions. Is language gender-inflected? Do men and women speak "different" languages? How do power and gender affect each other? How do women negotiate power among themselves? How do men? How is power exerted and controlled in sexual relationships? How do unspoken social definitions exert their power over the politics of gender? Possible works studied will be drawn from The Rape of Lucrece, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, All's Well That Ends Well, Othello, Macbeth, Troilus and Cressida, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Winter's Tale. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.


Junior Colloquia in Course Group I

Limited to 20 students, these courses will vary in content. They are intended to introduce students to advanced research and prepare them for their senior seminars and honors theses. Coursework and instruction will build toward a substantial paper of 12-15 pages of sustained inquiry and with a research component. Recommended prerequisites: two completed English courses, or permission of the instructor. Dist: LIT; WCult: Varies.

ENGL 61.01

Chaucer: Dream Poems and Troilus

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales get all the hype, but his other works are every bit as exciting. From a gorgeously beautiful elegy (Book of the Duchess) to a biting satire (on fake news, no less—the House of Fame) to the engaging-but-problematic romance of Troilus and Criseyde, we will have multiple encounters with Chaucer's voice, his thought, his wit and humor. We will think about the intriguing genres of the Dream Poem and the Romance, both of which Chaucer complicates in interesting ways. We will also hone our research skills and talk about the conception and execution of a major literary paper. Prior knowledge of Middle English is not required. Dist: LIT; WCult. W. Course Group I.

ENGL 61.02

Sound, Music, Literature in Medieval England

In this course, we will consider various ways of approaching medieval literature as an acoustic event, and embedded in everyday soundscapes. We will introduce ourselves to the theory contemporary sound studies, and its practical and theoretical study in a medieval context. We will explore the connections between music, poetry, and oral performance of literary texts. Readings will range widely from Old English poems and epics to Middle English poems, plays, and romances. Our investigation will culminate in two of Chaucer's shorter poems, in which he specifically (and ironically) investigates the nature of sound and its social functions. At the same time, we will hone our research and paper-writing skills; each student will plan and execute an individual research project and present it to the class. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.

ENGL 61.03/WGSS 66.20

Early Modern Literature and the History of Sexuality

Throughout the twentieth century and especially since the 1970s, the literature and drama of the English Renaissance has provided a crucial archive for scholars studying the historical formation of sexuality, sex practices, and gender in pre-modern society. Shakespeare's sonnets, for example, with their erotic address to both a "sweet boy" (or "master-mistress of my passion") and the so-called Dark Lady, remain a flashpoint. On the English stage, cross-gender identification and same-gender romance was a constant presence, while in the streets of London, "catamites," "tribades," or acts of "sodomy" were supposed to be completely absent—from the eyes of the law, at least. What can the poetry and plays of William Shakespeare, Amelia Lanyer, Christopher Marlowe, Margaret Cavendish, John Donne, or Katherine Phillips teach us, not only about the historically-distant practices of the past, but about our methods, theories, terms and changing paradigms for studying such topics today? What does it mean to read an imaginative literature as an archive within an historically contingent body of knowledge? Students should prepare to engage with significant primary and secondary historical readings as well as the social theories of Michel Foucault, Eve Sedgwick, and others. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.

ENGL 61.04

Madness, Magic, Metamorphosis: Unstable Character in Early Modern Drama

"Fair is foul and foul is fair," chant the witches of Shakespeare's MacBeth. Following their ominous words, this course explores how physical and psychic transformations reflect the uneasy coexistence of religion, myth, science, and the supernatural in Shakespeare's England. We begin with a slow reading of King Lear, in which a monarch's stormy madness destabilizes the natural world. Each week thereafter, we'll explore how playwrights use altered bodies and states of consciousness to reflect competing views of justice, truth, authority, and embodiment. As we test various critical approaches to the idea of literary character, we will weigh how well they account for the figures before us, who are defined by the mystical, the metaliterary, and the unnatural. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.

ENGL 61.05

The Faerie Queene: Speculative Fiction circa 1590

This course will read Edmund Spenser's 16th century poem, The Faerie Queene, through the lens of the modern practices of speculative fiction, that is, fiction that explores or created alternative worlds. Despite the title of the poem, the queen never appears. Instead there are knights, ladies, magicians, mythic and fantastic beings, human-animal hybrids and robots (for starters) in a landscape that features a wide range of social relations and conditions. Shakespeare, Milton, James Joyce, Monty Python, Neil Gaiman, and Angela Carter are on the long list of the poem's keen readers. In addition to The Faerie Queene, we'll read short essays on speculative fiction and brief extracts from 16th-18th century discussions of poetry as a way of writing and thinking. Spenser's language is deliberately archaic, but it is not difficult for modern readers. Experience with sixteenth century literature is not necessary. Dist: LIT; WCult. W. Course Group I.

ENGL 61.11

Reel Imaginary: Early American Literature in Film

Walter Benjamin argues that we can only awaken from “that dream we name the past” by passing through it, looking simultaneously at both past and future. We can attempt this by reading historical literature, but in the last few decades, film has become a major mediator of our experiences of the past. This course encourages us to think critically about how films represent our past to us in forms that shape our experience of our present identity and influence the future. To think dialectically, we will read primary source material from 1000 AD to 1757 and see what some of the major American filmmakers do with it and why. Dist: LIT: WCult: W. Course Group I.


Senior Seminars in Course Group I

Senior Seminars, limited to 12 seniors and juniors, will vary in content. They will focus students on concentrated discussions and on a final research project of 20-25 pages. Recommended prerequisites: four completed English courses or permission of the instructor. Dist: LIT, WCult: W.

ENGL 71.01

Celtic Fringes: Medieval English Literature in Dialogue with Irish, Welsh, and Breton Traditions

From Arthur and Merlin to prophecy, poetry, and song, the literatures of medieval England drew heavily on the lively, imaginative, and sophisticated traditions of their Celtic neighbors, their musical styles and the particular aesthetic they brought to their poetry and narrative. In this course we will study some pairings of connected Celtic and English/Anglo-Norman texts, as well as contemporary writing about the Celtic connection. The politics of these exchanges are not easy. There were wars and border skirmishes; the Norman and Angevin kings of England sought to subdue the Celtic kingdoms and extend their political influence by diplomacy, coercion and conquest, creating a dynamic that is in some ways parallel to, but also interestingly different from a modern Colonial/Postcolonial situation. Readings may include early Arthurian material; Diarmaid and Grainne and the Anglo-French Tristan romances; Geoffrey of Monmouth's Life of Merlin and Merlinesque prophecies; the Welsh Mabinogi; lais by Marie de France and other writers; the borderland romance "Fulk Fitz Warren"; the anecdotes, satires and short romances of Walter Map; Gerald of Wales's ethnographic descriptions/ travelogues of Wales and Ireland. All non-English texts will be read in translation, although students with some knowledge of French, Latin, or a Celtic language may wish to explore some readings in the original. DIST: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.

ENGL 71.02

Ovid in England

Englishing Ovid was something every advanced schoolboy in the 16th century did: translating passages; composing speeches for characters from the poems; dramatizing and performing (in Latin, in England) Ovidian scenes. In this seminar we'll read Ovid's Heroides and Metamorphoses in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century print translations alongside a modern English edition. (Students competent in Latin may use the Loeb as well as or instead of the modern English.) We'll consider the forms, themes, and predicaments Ovid's great mythographic poems offered to the English literary imagination. Some attention will be paid to late 20th century performative and poetic "englishings" of Ovid. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.

ENGL 71.03

The Faerie Queene

We'll spend the term reading Spenser's great epic romance, The Faerie Queene. It's a wonderful poem, deeply engaged with philosophical, poetic, ethical, and political issues via compelling stories, fantastic settings, and provocative descriptions. Shakespeare, Milton, James Joyce, Monty Python and Neil Gaiman are on the long list of the poem's keen readers. Experience with sixteenth century literature is not required. Spenser's language is deliberately archaic at times, but it is not difficult for modern readers.  Supplementary material will include critical essays and Ovid's Metamorphoses. Discussion, informal writing, short papers (2-3pp), oral presentations, and an open topic essay leading to a final paper. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.

ENGL 71.05

Romance in Medieval England

This course explores the diverse and elusive genre we now call “romance,” a capacious term that covers anything from chivalric adventures and love stories to quasi-hagiographic and pseudo-historical narratives, from a variety of historical and theoretical perspectives. Readings may include Middle English and Anglo-Normal romances such as Tristan, Havelock and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and selections from later Arthurian narratives. Dist: LIT, WCult: W. Course Group I.

ENGL 71.06


This course is an advanced seminar in the study of John Milton's poetry and prose, undertaken with attention to the context of Milton's life and times and current critical discussion and debate about all of these matters. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.

ENGL 71.13

Gender and Power in Shakespeare

The course will begin by defining the varieties of power inscribed in Shakespeare's plays, and proceed to explore the following questions. Is language gender-inflected? Do men and women speak "different" languages? How do power and gender affect each other? How do women negotiate power among themselves? How do men? How is power exerted and controlled in sexual relationships? How do unspoken social definitions exert their power over the politics of gender? Possible works studied will be drawn from The Rape of Lucrece, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, All's Well That Ends Well, Othello, Macbeth, Troilus and Cressida, Coriolanus, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Winter's Tale. Dist: LIT. Course Group I.

ENGL 71.14

Knights, Camelot, Action!

This course will introduce students to medieval romance, one of the most popular genres of medieval literature and one that gives us some of the best-loved literary characters of all time. We will study the genre of romance, including Arthurian romance and other varieties, from the genre's inception. We will pay particular attention to the form of story-telling that it popularizes, the concept of love that it systematizes, and the notion of heroism on which it depends. We will privilege English romance and will therefore read many texts in their original Middle English. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.

ENGL 71.15

Poetics of the Supernatural

"The instruments of darkness tell us truths," warns Shakespeare's Macbeth. While the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries took a complex view of the occult—witch-hunts spawned widescale bloodshed while alchemy paved the way for modern chemistry—this senior seminar examines how Renaissance writers used supernatural events to interrogate social structures of power and identity. Closely reading poetry and drama by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, we will ask how transformations, hauntings, and spells productively trouble categories of gender, temporality, ecology, and the human. Working with early modern historical archives and literary experiments, from week to week we will be challenged to consider how imaginative fiction, perhaps even more than realism, captures the tension and possibility that define eras of radical cultural change. Dist: LIT; WCult. W. Course Group I.

ENGL 71.16

Shakespeare and the Problem of Forgiveness: Late Plays & Problem Plays

This course will study the aesthetic phenomenon and social ritual of forgiveness through readings from the second half of Shakespeare's career. In early modern England, the Protestant reformation had radically reshaped the dominant religious rituals of penance, confession, and absolution. Scholars have often argued that some of the traditions abolished, such as the richly imagined world of purgatory or the importance of intercessory forms of forgiveness, were sublimated into the secular drama of Shakespeare's stage. Our syllabus will test this argument by following Shakespeare's turn from revenge toward romance, "problem plays" and dark comedies. Readings in history, critical theory (Foucault on man as "confessing animal"), language philosophy (including J.L. Austin's How to Do Things with Words), and forays into contemporary fiction (including Miriam Toews' Women Talking) will inform and broaden our discussions. Is forgiveness differently satisfying or unsatisfying in life or in art? How do aesthetic experiences of reconciliation affect society? Ultimately our goal will be to track the alternative norms and sources of normativity revealed by a philological inquiry into cultural and literary texts as well as socio-linguistic practices whose contemporary analogues might include the confession booth, the rhetoric of the public apology, or the discourse of restorative justice today. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I.