ENGL 210: Major British Writers: Chaucer to 1800

Major British Writers: Chaucer to 1800

Designed  as a survey of  British literature from Chaucer to the year 1800, English 210 gives students a broad understanding of the techniques that writers in British literature have used over a span of 400 years. We will read a variety of genres, including the fantastical medieval romance, the feverish response to love in the Petrarchan sonnet, the ecstatic delay endemic to the epic poem, the tragicomedy of a Shakespearean play, and the rise of the long eighteenth-century novel.

Throughout the semester, students will read the major figures of early British literature—Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, John Milton, Dr. Samuel Johnson, and Daniel Defoe—while also engaging with minor writers whose corpora remain as puzzling as they are entertaining. These works will range from early travel narratives in medieval England, to Margaret Cavendish’s poetic response to the scientific method, to Captain James Cook’s journal of his expeditions around the world.

Assigned Primary Texts:

  • The Seafarer
  • Chaucer, Wife of Bath
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • Selections from Sir John Mandeville’s Travels
  • The Petrarchan poetic tradition: Petrarch, Thomas Wyatt, Henry Howard, and Edmund Spenser
  • Queen Elizabeth I, selections from translation of Plutarch’s De Curiositate
  • William Golding, selections from translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses
  • Shakespeare, The Tempest
  • Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I
  • Bernard le Bovier, selections from Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds
  • Margaret Cavendish, selections from Blazing World
  • Samuel Johnson, selections from Rasselas
  • Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
  • Richard Rolt, “A Description of the Country Guiana,” from A New Accurate History of South-America
  • Michel Montaigne, On Cannibals
  • Captain James Cook, selections from Voyage Around the World
  • Olaudah Equiano, selections from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano