English 40W: Myths of Britain
Spring Semester 2008
taught by 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; Geoffrey of Monmouth’s medieval Molotov cocktail of a text, his history of King Arthur; and Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest. We will also read some lesser known texts that beautifully stress the turbulent multiculturalism of medieval England: Marie de France’s poetic stories of lycanthropy and tragic love, and the monster-filled travel narrative of Sir John Mandeville.
Class meets in a lecture format every Monday (11:10-12:25), and in smaller sections each Wednesday. This course satisfies the WID requirement and is open to all interested students.