English 40W Spring 2009: Myths of Britain

English 40W: Myths of Britain

Spring Semester 2009
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 one; 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 early English literature within a transnational frame. Students will enjoy literary works like Seamus Heaney’s version of Beowulf; Simon Armitage’s new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; Marie de France’s poetic stories of lycanthropy and tragic love; multiple versions of the King Arthur myths; and two Shakespeare plays, King Lear and The Tempest.

Class meets in a lecture format every Monday (11:10-12:25), and in smaller sections each Wednesday.

This is a challenging course that satisfies the WID requirement.

“Myths of Britain” is open to all students regardless of major, provided they are willing to work hard at their writing, to hone their close reading skills, and to learn how wide the world really was in the medieval and early modern periods.
[South-oriented map of the world drawn by the Moroccan cartographer al-Idrisi for King Roger of Sicily, 1154: from here]

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