English 103: British Literature I (Fall 2021)

Satisfies the English Major Requirements: Historical Survey, Pre-1800, and British Literature

English 103 surveys British literature from its beginnings in the 600s to the late 1700s. One goal of this course is to expose you to a variety of authors, issues, and genres that characterize these literary periods; to give us some footing, we will orient our study around the question of social codes. That is, we will consider how literary texts provided occasions for constructing and performing various social and cultural identities. How do literary expressions of what is “heroic” develop across time to reflect changing codes? How do authors use particular themes and tropes to negotiate their positions within their own community, and how does such negotiation in turn depend on the “othering” of those conceived to be outside that community?


Texts and authors under consideration include Beowulf, Margery Kempe, Queen Elizabeth, Shakespeare, and Milton. The semester culminates in a consideration of Equiano’s slave narrative. What happens when a slave, constructed by eighteenth-century England as not only non-heroic but sub-human, adapts preexisting literary tropes to assert his own humanity? Equiano’s Interesting Narrative interrupts the British literary canon that it also participates in. Through Equiano’s eyes, we will reconsider the whiteness of the canon that we have surveyed. By examining the relationship between literature and power, this course provides you with tools for interrogating the identity categories that still persist today, and to critique the ways in which such constructions perpetuate cultural and racial oppression.



The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: Concise Edition, Volume A (3rd ed.) (Broadview, 2017)


Requirements: Active class participation, regular response papers, two essays, and a final


Instructor:  Yin Yuan      MWF 8:00-9:05


Yin Yuan English Professor SMC