Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Planning a Class - Masterpieces

As usual, here's the course description: Studies major works of English literature from Beowulf (750) to Blake (1780). Includes such authors as Chaucer, Marlowe, Donne, Milton and Swift.

A bit of brainstorming. What to teach?
--I'm going to do some open brainstorming, and then add in hours. Figure 40 hours of instructional time for the course.

Old English
Beowulf - 3 hrs
"The Dream of the Rood" (w/ B)

--what other Old English works should students really know? (Given that I'm not a medievalist, and we have one semester to get to Blake.) These have to be in translation.

Middle English*
Marie de France - "Lanval" - 1 hr
Gawain - 3 hrs
Chaucer - "Knight's Tale," "Miller's Tale," "Franklin's Tale" -4-5 hrs

--maybe a drama?

16th c.
Spenser - Bk I of the FQ - 2-3 hrs
Marlowe - Faustus - 2-3 hrs
Poetry - Sonnets, and stuff: Shax, Wyatt, etc. - 3 hrs

--Would you teach, say, Lear, though there's a Shakespeare class, too? Any likelihood that students would be taking both? (Lear is 3 hrs)

17th c.
Jonson - Volpone - 2 hrs
Milton - Bk I of PL - 3-4 hrs
Behn - Oroonoko - 3 hrs
Poetry - Donne, Marvell, Herrick, Jonson - 4 hrs

18th c.
Swift - "Modest Proposal" - 1 hr
Pope - "Rape of the Lock" - 1 hr
NOVEL - thinking of Joseph Andrews, but need to read it soon! - 3 hrs
Poetry - Pope, and on up to Blake. (Please don't make me do Dryden!) - 3 hrs

Right now, I'm at 45 hours, counting the higher number for each text, so I could do this if I planned and prepped well, and held some things to fewer hours. (That's counting Lear.)

What would you add, and what would you give up to add it?

What would you drop? (I'm guessing a lot of students have seen "A Modest Proposal" in HS? Drop?)

What could you see me condensing or skipping?

*When I was a grad student, my grad school taught a massive survey to undergrad English majors. Chaucer was done in Middle English, and by all accounts, everyone found it miserable. TAs hated it, and students hated it worse.

When I was adjuncting there, I taught the (then required) upper-level Chaucer class and faced the difficulties of students reading Chaucer in that survey. First, they hated it. Every single person came to that class hating Chaucer. Second, they didn't bring anything about Chaucer or the tales they'd read with them to the Chaucer class. They remembered nothing except how much they'd hated it.

And so, I vowed never to teach Middle English texts in Middle English unless I had the time in the class to teach students to read Middle English well enough to enjoy the texts. Thus, anything I teach from ME in this class will be in translation.


  1. I hate to say this because it may ruin my street cred, but BRAVO for teaching the middle English texts in translation. Here's my opinion on the subject. Students who encounter these texts in middle English are going to hate them, as you indicate. My thought is this: if you introduce the works in translation, and the students aren't fighting with the language so much, they are going to enjoy them. And if they enjoy them enough to want to read them in the "original" language, then they can use their own motivation for further study. That's pretty much how it worked for me with Chaucer. I had read a translation in high school and college, and then in grad school was introduced to the original language, which I enjoyed more because I already knew that I like a "version" of Chaucer. Had I not had the previous experience, I think I -- even I -- would have resisted with all my might. In fact, I kind of hate Spencer for his imitative language. And I'm SURE that I'm missing out...

  2. Anonymous5:25 PM

    Do they *have* to take the Shakespeare class, or is it an option? If they aren't required to read The Bard elsewhere, then yes!

    How about Moll Flanders or Robinson Crusoe?

  3. ps: The reason I suggest those is because I've had good luck teaching them. Was surprised at how much the students liked Moll, actually.

  4. I know Canterbury Tales is the usual thing for Chaucer, but if you're already doing stuff in translation, what about Troilus and Criseyde? I *loved* it in college, and it redeemed Chaucer for me after a really bad experience in High School. If you're doing all of Bk 1 of the FQ in 2-3 hours, you could definitely do T&C in translation and even have time for a couple of the shorter tales. And, if you're doing CT, why not the Wife of Bath's Tale?

    And I love the idea of including some medieval drama--2nd Shepherd's Play is the usual choice, of course, but the Wakefield Cain and Able is good too.

    But... only book 1 of Paradise Lost? *sob* At least add in Book 2, or the Abdiel sections from book 5! You can totally do two books in 3-4 class hours.

  5. It's hard to do a comprehensive survey, especially when you break down the hours of teaching time.

    In the last section, I notice you have Pope twice. Can you omit or reduce one of those to free up some hours?

    And if you're already at the point of cutting, I'd drop one of the Chaucer examples as well as the Spenser. I never liked Jonson, so I'd skip that, too, but I know that's a personal prejudice!

  6. Troilus and Criseyde is also a lot of fun to teach. And I believe there are excellent translations available, some of them even online.

  7. I haven't read Joseph Andrews, but I love both Pamela (because it was an absolute smash when it came out and there were Pamela teacups and things, which means you get to talk about all that) and Roxana. I love Defoe so I'd use any excuse to get him in there.

  8. Two thumbs up for Pamela, too.

  9. Anonymous3:53 PM

    more's utopia?