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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).
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.
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.
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.
English lyric and narrative poetry from the early sixteenth century to the mid-seventeenth century. Poets will include Thomas Wyatt, Edmund Spenser, Philip Sidney, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, John Donne, George Herbert, and Andrew Marvell, among others. The course will attend to prosody, the evolution of verse forms, European and classical influence, and modes of circulation. 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.
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
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 delievery 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.
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
Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I. Sample syllabus
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
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.
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; Course Group I.
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
This course offers students the luxury of focusing exclusively on just two of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Using both the text(s) and various films of these two plays, we will begin with Hamlet, a play whose central figure is a young man, recently back from college and just now beginning to fall in love—a man whose life, in other words, would seem to offer boundless opportunities. For the title figure of King Lear, precisely the opposite conditions apply: an 80 year old father of 3 daughters who manages, in the first scene, to destroy his family and break apart the kingdom he gives away—a man who is largely responsible for the suffering he brings upon himself, and one for whom there is no time left to make amends or begin again. So why should we care? And what is it about these two plays that makes many see them as the two greatest of Shakespeare’s tragedies? Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I
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.
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.
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 Course Group I.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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, 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. Course Group I.
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.
Englishing Ovid was something every advanced schoolboy in the16th 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.
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.
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.
Beginning with the origins of European drama in the Eastertide liturgical rituals of the 11th century, this course focuses on the four great history-of-the-world plays performed in the 15th and 16th centuries in York, Chester, Wakefield, and East Anglia. Our critical approach to these Corpus Christi plays will emphasize their theatrical accomplishments, their "visceral" interpretations of Christ's protracted sufferings, and their political significance within their discrete cultural environments. The course then moves on to consider plays that were performed by acting troupes, rather than city guilds, namely the miracle play The Croxton Play of the Sacrament, and two morality plays, Mankind and Everyman. The course concludes with examination of medieval folk plays, and modern performances of medieval drama in England, South Africa, and North America. Reports, and two papers. Dist: LIT; WCult: W. Course Group I (and IV in 15S).
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.
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.
"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.