Herewith the syllabus for my spring semester course "Myths of Britain." It's a large class (78 students registered) that is designed for all students, not just English majors. This is my second time teaching it.
So, what are you teaching this semester?
ENGLISH 40W: MYTHS OF BRITAIN
spring semester, 2009
Professor Jeffrey J. Cohen
Much great English literature turns out not to be so English after all: the action of the epic Beowulf unfolds in Scandinavia; King Arthur was a Welsh king before he was an English monarch; Shakespeare's Tempest takes place on an island in the Mediterranean, but the play is also about the colonization of the New World. "Myths of Britain" looks at the early island within a transnational frame. We explore literature as both art and a way to imagine social and individual identities. Students will enjoy works like Seamus Heaney's version of Beowulf; various versions of the Arthurian myths; the lais of Marie de France; and two plays by Shakespeare.
Our objectives are threefold:
(1) to give you the chance to hone your writing through the careful analysis of literature within its historical context
(2) to introduce you to current methods of studying early England within a transnational frame
(3) to explore the relation between narrating the past and bringing about a desired future, paying close attention to who is excluded from this emergent community
Course format: The course meets twice a week: on Mondays at 11:10 a.m. in MPA 310 for lecture, and on Wednesdays for discussion sections. Attendance at both lecture and section is mandatory.
Required books: (available from the GWU Bookstore)
Beowulf (trans. Seamus Heaney, Norton Critical edition)
Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances (trans. William Kibler)
Marie de France, Lais (trans. Hanning and Ferrante)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (trans. Simon Armitage)
Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur, volume 2
William Shakespeare, King Lear (Norton Critical edition)
William Shakespeare, The Tempest (Bedford Case Study edition)
1. Attend lectures and sections; participate in discussions; complete readings and assignments on time.
2. Reading quizzes: Monday lecture sessions will begin with a brief reading quiz. Lateness or absence from lecture is not an excuse for missing the quiz, and quizzes cannot be made up. The quizzes cumulatively take the place of a midterm examination.
3. Writing assignments: Four short but intense writing assignments culminate in a fifth, a 5pp “problem paper.” Detailed information about the assignments will be available in advance, and you will have ample opportunity to discuss the assignments in section.
Policy on lateness and extensions: Except for a documented medical reason, late work will not be graded. You may not take an incomplete for this course.
Academic dishonesty: Academic dishonesty of any kind will be treated as a serious offense. In most cases, you will fail the course. You can find more on the Code of Academic Integrity at http://www.gwu.edu/~ntegrity.
Disability statement: If you feel you need accommodations based on the impact of a disability, contact Prof. Cohen and your TA. Disability Support Services (Marvin Center 242, 994 8250, http://gwired.gwu.edu/dss) is available to assist you.
Your grade for the course will be determined by adding together the following:
Attendance at one special lecture (see below) 5
Participation and attendance at section 15
Reading quizzes 25 (12x2 points each)
Four short but intense writing exercises 4 x 5 = 20 total
Final writing exercise 10
Final examination 25
TOTAL POINTS 100
A focus of this course is how contemporary scholars analyze the literature of the medieval and early modern period. You are therefore required to attend at least one of the presentations that have been arranged through the GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute: David Wallace speaking about "Writing after Catastrophe" in the Marvin Center amphitheatre on 1/30; Lytton Smith talking about monsters, the medieval, and his own poetry on 4/3; Stephanie Trigg of the University of Melbourne discussing the Order of the Garter on 4/24. All of these events are on Friday afternoons. Exact times and places will be announced in class and via Blackboard. Make sure you check in with a TA when you do attend. Coming to more than one lecture will earn you an extra two points on your final average, and will also make you a better person.
Code of Courtesy
Arrive on time with your cell phone silenced. Bring the appropriate book to class. Give the professor and your TA your full attention. Remain in the room until the class ends. Conduct yourself in a manner respectful to all present. Never hesitate to ask a question, to express a doubt, or to request clarification.
Schedule of Readings and Assignments
January 12 Lecture: The Britain in England. Text: “The Wanderer” (handout; also on Blackboard)
January 14 Section: Introductions. “The Dream of the Rood” (please print out a copy via Blackboard and read before section meeting).
January 19 No lecture (MLK day)
January 21 Section: Comparison of opening lines of Beowulf in several translations. Short writing assignment #1 handed out (poetic language exercise).
January 26 Lecture: Beowulf: A Verse Translation, trans. Seamus Heaney lines 1-1798. First assignment due in lecture.
January 28 Section
January 30 Special Lecture: David Wallace, “Writing after Catastrophe: Conceptualizing Literary History and the Boundaries of Europe”
February 2 Lecture: Beowulf: A Verse Translation, trans. Seamus Heaney, lines 1799-end
February 4 Section: Seamus Heaney, “Translator’s Introduction.” Short writing assignment #2 handed out (close reading of passage).
February 9 Lecture: Chrétien de Troyes, The Knight with the Lion. Writing exercise 2 due.
February 11 Section
February 16 No lecture (President’s Day)
February 18 Section: Paper writing workshop on “How to Compose a Successful Problem Paper”
February 23 Lecture: Chrétien de Troyes, The Knight of the Cart.
February 25 Section. Writing assignment #3 (Problem Paper I) due.
March 2 Lecture: Marie de France’s Lais I (“Guigemar” to “Les Deus Amanz”)
March 4 Section.
March 9 Lecture: Marie de France’s Lais II (“Yonec” to “Eliduc”)
March 11 Section. Writing assignment #4 (Problem Paper II) due.
March 16-18 Spring Break
March 23 Lecture: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
March 25 Section. Critical paper assigned.
March 30 Lecture: Thomas Malory, Le Morte Darthur, pp. 373-532
April 1 Section. First paragraph and prospectus of critical paper due.
April 3 Special Lecture: Lytton Smith (consult Blackboard for time and place)
April 6 Lecture: King Lear, Acts 1-3
April 9 Section
April 13 Lecture: King Lear, Acts 4-5.
April 15 Section
April 20 Lecture: The Tempest Acts 1-3
April 22 Section: Aimé Césaire, A Tempest
April 23 Critical paper due by 5 PM.
April 24 Special Lecture: Stephanie Trigg (consult Blackboard for time and place)
April 27 Lecture: The Tempest Acts 4-5
April 29 Section
TBA Final examination