Survey of British Literature: Beginnings to 1784

Cultural Traditions and Radical Change
Section 01
William Kerwin
Course Description

In this course, we will be dipping into some of the great works of English literature from the medieval, early-modern, and eighteenth-century periods. English literature from so long ago might at times seem unconnected to contemporary issues, but I don’t believe that is the case. My starting point is that this literature can help us see distinctly different visions of the ordering principles and disordering conflicts of any society.  The differences from us of these stories, poems, plays, and other narratives provides their immense value for us now; they are refracted versions and visions of the issues of power and desire that structure our lives too. And all throughout these three periods of English literature, authors raised their voices to push back AGAINST traditions.  

We will be consider both portraits of tradition and fervently-voiced challenges to those tradition.  We will look authors of poems, plays, novels, and essays, moving from old English ballads through Renaissance poets to eighteenth-century novelists.  We will be primarily in England, but we will also be in the Americas, Asia, and Africa. I can promise you a surprising and wild ride!