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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Christopher John-F Martin
ENGL 242
Seattle Campus

Reading Prose Fiction

Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods.

Class description

In this class we will read, in translation, fictions from medieval England. Since “fiction” in our modern sense of the term does not apply to medieval texts, we will broaden our scope to include narrative poems and hagiography (accounts of saints). Students will work to engage with early English fictions through close reading and analysis and with an eye towards significant historical events surrounding these texts.

Our literary time-line will be almost nine-hundred years, beginning just after the withdrawal of the Romans from England and ending with the death of Chaucer in 1400. What that means is that our course will be primed to engage closely with texts that paint with broad strokes an England in the midst of civil and moral strife. We will engage with well-known texts like Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and The Canterbury Tales, but we will also focus on the lesser-read texts from this period, including Felix's Life of Guthlac and the lays of Marie de France. Furthermore, by taking some verse and mythological-based histories with other prose fiction, we can pose the broader question: what constitutes the boundaries of narrative fictions in early English society?

Techniques of reading literature we will employ: textual criticism, New Historicism, and close reading. While this is a literature course that takes history as it's way to evaluate and synchronize cultural and textual events, this is not a historical survey course. The overall goal of ENGL 242 is to equip students with techniques for critically reading, responding, analyzing, and hopefully enjoying various kinds of literature.

Literature we will likely read: Caedmon’s Hymn, Bede’s Death Song, Gildas, On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain, Wulf and Eadwacer, Ruin, Wanderer, Seafarer, Husband’s Message, Wife’s Lament, Maxims I; Maxims II, Soul and Body I, Riddles (selection); Felix’s Life of Guthlac (selection), Cynewulf and Cyneheard, Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica (selection); Dream of the Rood; Wulfstan of Winchester, Life of Aethelwold, Beowulf, Battle of Maldon, The Canterbury Tales (selection), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, possibly others.

The reading load of this class will be rigorous, and the content difficult, but rewarding. Attentiveness to the literature and criticism (when asked) is a requirement. Students will be required to write weekly 1-page responses, commenting on critical positions raised in the texts or in class. In addition, each student (with a group of 3 others) will give one 15 minute presentation of a selected text and then lead classroom discussion that day. Since this 200 level literature course is also a W-course, students are required to write two 5-7 page essays over the course of the quarter. One of these papers will be able to be revised. Paper topics must be submitted in writing to me two weeks before the paper is due.

For more information on W-course requirements, see the University of Washington description:

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Christopher John-F Martin
Date: 02/20/2012