English 258: Major English Authors I

About the Course

This course surveys English literature from the Anglo-Saxon period to the middle of the eighteenth century, encompassing a number of major writers and important genres and themes. The course aims to provide a basic context for understanding literature written during the first millennium of English literary history by focusing on the historical and cultural contexts in which the literature was written and the changing conventions it employs. Note: This course does not attempt in depth readings of the texts; instead, it emphasises understanding the historical contexts which formed the basis for all intellectual and material culture during the period studied. As such, you will be expected to learn (i.e. remember) a fair amount of history: names, dates, and cultural terminology. This is a crash course on all the chronological background you may have missed out on but which is crucial for understanding the origins and early development of western culture. Students in this course will:

  • Acquire a basic knowledge of the early period in British literature from the sixth to the eighteenth centuries, including historical, cultural, and intellectual influences.
  • Acquire some familiarity with works by major authors from the early period in British literature.
  • Acquire a basic familiarity with the language of early British literature.
  • Practice reading and writing about early British literature using critical reading skills and the written conventions of literary criticism.


Course Information

  • Days: Tuesday/Thursday
  • Time: 2:00 PM-3:15 PM (Course Number 14768)
  • Location: Jerome Richfield 242
  • Office Location: Sierra Tower 803
  • Office Hours:


We are using a custom course pack based on The Broadview Anthology British Literature, 2nd edition: Concise Edition, Volume A. The course pack is available from the Matador bookstore. If they run out of copies, you may order a copy of the full edition from the Broadview web site. Make sure you order Volume A!

Always bring your textbook to class. Really.

Coursework and Grading

Your grade will consist of the following elements: multiple short quizzes in class, preparation and participation, two online quizzes, a midterm, and a final exam.


Each week, I will take attendance for a randomly generated list of students, either in the morning class, the afternoon class, or both (the dates also be randomly generated). The information collected will be used in determining your grade for Preparation and Participation.

Preparation and Participation

Preparation and Participation will make up approximately 5% of your final grade according to my discretion. I will assign points based factors such as on-time attendance, classroom participation/disruption, bringing your textbook to class, and so on. For further information on factors that can influence your grade, see under Class Policies below.

In-Class Quizzes

Throughout the semester, I will administer short (ten-minute) quizzes at the beginning of class. These quizzes are designed to make sure that you are keeping up with the reading, and are reading thoughtfully, as well to make sure that you are remembering important background information. They are essentially study guides for the online quizzes and exams. These assignments will be worth 20% of your final grade. These quizzes will be self-graded before you turn them in. You can miss up to three quizzes, after which your overall grade will be lowered 5% per quiz.

Online Quizzes

There will be 2 online quizzes (administered in Canvas) worth 25% of your total grade.

Quizzes will be graded as follows:

A The quiz was completed, showed excellent knowledge of factual information, excellent comprehension of texts and their relation to historical context, and excellent ability to write about the material in correct English spelling and grammar.
B The quiz was completed, showed good knowledge of factual information and/or comprehension of texts and their relation to historical context. The quiz showed good ability to write about the material in correct English spelling and grammar.
C The quiz was quiz completed and showed some knowledge of factual information and some comprehension of texts and their relation to historical context. The quiz contained significant problems in the use of correct English spelling and grammar.
D The quiz was quiz completed and showed little knowledge of factual information or comprehension of texts and their relation to historical context. The quiz contained significant problems in the use of correct English spelling and grammar.
F The quiz was not completed at the scheduled time.

Plus and minus grades will be awarded where some criteria are satisfied, but not others.


There will be 2 exams, a midterm and a final exam, each worth 25% of your final grade. Exams are graded according to the same criteria as quizzes.

Class Policies

By enrolling in this course you agree to be bound for the purposes of this class by the policies below, which serve as a formal legal agreement. You may reject these policies by dropping the class within the time allotted by the University.


Grades are A, B, C, D, or F and can receive a plus or minus. To receive a grade other than a WU, you must have completed more than half the coursework (no exceptions).

Since students in English courses are expected by society at large to be acquiring writing skills, I privilege grammar, spelling, and editing in my grading. Work containing distracting numbers of typos, spelling mistakes, or grammatical errors will be graded primarily on these criteria on a sliding scale which may supersede the percentages given in the Coursework and Grading section above. That is, the more distracting these factors are, the more they are worth (up to 100% of your grade). A rough guide to what is distracting is any sign that might give an employer pause when evaluating a job application.

Make-Up Tests

I will only administer tests once and am not required to provide you with the opportunity to take make-up tests if you miss them at the assigned time. I will only administer make-up tests if 1) you have a legitimate excuse recognised by the university, 2) I am able to do so without adversely impacting other students either by taking time from my other duties or by creating conditions that would give you an unfair advantage for the purposes of grading.

Extra Credit

Although I may award extra credit for some non-required activities (such as attendance at guest lectures), I regret that I am unable to grade assignments beyond those required for class in order to award extra credit.

Preparation and Participation

Enrolling in this class requires a commitment to participate in a community of learners in which you agree to contribute to and not to detract from the learning environment. In order to receive full credit for participation, you must do the readings in advance, bring assigned textbooks to each class, be prepared to discuss the materials, and complete all assignments. You must also arrive to class on time and remain in the class room for the duration of the class period. For disruptive behaviour, I reserve the right to increase the proportion of your final grade allotted to participation, as I feel appropriate.

Inappropriate Use of Technology in Class

Ringing and/or vibrating cell phones in class disrupt my concentration and that of your fellow students, inevitably lowering the quality of the learning environment. If your cell phone goes off in class, I reserve the right to impose penalties to your grade or to ask you to leave the classroom, as I deem appropriate. If your cell phone disrupts my thought process as I am teaching, I may call a “class break” in order to recover from the distraction. It is in your interest to remember that you will have deprived your fellow classmates of this class time.

If you have a computer or smart phone in the classroom, it will be very tempting to check your e-mail, read Facebook, or generally surf the web for purposes unrelated to the class. Resist. If I catch you engaged in these activities, I reserve the right to impose penalties to your grade or ask you to leave the classroom, as I deem appropriate. Please be aware that this has the same effect on my teaching as cell phones and may also trigger the “class break” response.

Academic Honesty

It is extremely important that all aspects of your work are come by honourably. Efforts to gain an advantage not given to all students are dishonest and regarded as an extremely serious matter by the academic community. Consequences range from probation to expulsion. University policy stipulates that plagiarism, the submission of another person’s work as your own, is a violation of academic honesty, even if it arises out of ignorance or oversight, rather than deliberate cheating. Enrolling in this class means that you agree to abide by my decision regarding the appropriate action to take in cases of academic dishonesty. If you have any questions about plagiarism, paraphrasing, quoting, or collaboration, please consult me.

Add/Drop Policy

Students should make sure that they follow the university’s add/drop deadlines, outlined in the Schedule of Classes. According to university policy, drops are only allowed after the set date when “a) there is a serious and compelling reason–specifically the student’s emotional or physical health or financial condition is clearly in jeopardy, and b) there is no viable alternative–including repeating the class”. Students will need to provide documentation on official letterhead–a letter, on official stationery, from a doctor or an employer–to support their reasons. No adds will be allowed unless a student can provide documented proof–e.g., a clerical error–for the reason for the tardiness. Please make sure to meet the deadline!

Withdrawals and Incompletes

The standard grade if a student fails to complete the work for a class is a “WU”. This is the equivalent of an “F”, but the grade may be changed if you re-take the course at a future time. This grade is also assigned to students who have not attended after the first few classes of the semester but have not officially “withdrawn” from the course.

I may assign an Incomplete (“I”) if and only if you meet all of the following conditions:

  • You have completed the vast bulk of the assigned work;
  • You are passing the class;
  • You fill out and bring to me a Request for an Incomplete form (also available from the English Department office), on which I detail exactly what is still needed for completion of the course.
  • I can make no exceptions to this policy, even if it affects your financial aid.

Once you take an incomplete, you have a year from the date recorded on the form to complete the requirements of the course and have your grade changed; therefore, you should submit work early enough to allow me to grade your work and fill out the necessary forms to assign you a new grade.

Keep in mind that, after you take an Incomplete, any grading of your work becomes an added burden on my busy timetable during the following year. Therefore you should not expect the normal amount of comments on your work or any extra teaching beyond my normal office hours.


You are responsible for having completed the reading by the dates indicated. We sometimes spend a little longer or a little less time than anticipated on individual texts, so, if you print this syllabus or miss class, make sure to check this page in case their are any adjustments.

Tuesday 29 Introduction and Background
Thursday 31 Background Reading: pp. 1-11
Tuesday 5 Reading: Extracts from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (pp. 36-50)
Thursday 7 Background Reading: pp. 29-31; The Wanderer (pp. 51-54)
Tuesday 12 The Wanderer (continued)
Thursday 14 The Dream of the Rood (pp. 55-34)
Tuesday 19 Beowulf, lines 1-1887 (pp. 59-86). Please also look at the helpful background material on pp. 103-107.
Thursday 21 Beowulf (continued)
Tuesday 26 Beowulf, lines 1888-3182 (pp. 86-103)
Thursday 28 Beowulf (continued)
Tuesday 3 Background Reading: pp. 12-20; Lanval (pp. 108-125)
Thursday 5 Lanval (continued)
Tuesday 10 Middle English Lyrics (pp. 126-134)
Thursday 12 The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (pp. 134-156)
Tuesday 17 The General Prologue (continued)
Thursday 19 The Miller's Tale from the Canterbury Tales (pp. 156-165)
Tuesday 24 The Miller's Tale (continued)
Thursday 26 Midterm
Tuesday 31 Background Reading: pp.166-178; 200-211; 215-217
Thursday 2 Background Reading: pp. 179-185; Poems by Christopher Marlowe (pp. 221-223); Poems by Sir Walter Raleigh (pp. 218-220) (please read the Marlowe poems first)
Tuesday 7 Reading: pp. 254-264 (Shakespeare’s sonnets)
Thursday 9 Reading: pp. 254-264 (Shakespeare’s sonnets)
Tuesday 14 Reading: pp. 193-194;211-215; 265-269 (metaphysical poetry by John Donne)
Thursday 16 Reading: pp. 185-193; 224-253 (Doctor Faustus)
Tuesday 21 Doctor Faustus (continued)
Thursday 23 Thanksgiving Recess
Tuesday 28 Reading: pp. 195-200; 270-287 (Paradise Lost, Book 1)
Thursday 30 Paradise Lost (continued)
Tuesday 5 Reading: pp. 288-295; 296-303 (Poems by Behn and Rochester)
Thursday 7 Review
Tuesday 12 No Class
Thursday 14 Final Exam — 3:00PM-5:00PM



  1. Oxford English Dictionary (through Oviatt Library)

Online Resources

  1. English 258 Timeline
  2. An Orientation to Early English Literature (Accessible Version)
  3. Timeline of Anglo-Saxon England
  4. English History (1066-1413)
  5. Middle English Grammar
  6. Introducing the Literature of the Middle Ages
  7. British History (1485-1714)
  8. How to Understand Early Modern Poetry
  9. Reading Middle English

Further Reading

Compiling a bibliography for this type of course is a daunting task. It cannot be expected that you will read too deeply about an single author or work, and that you only have a limited amount of time to get to know each historical period. Hence I have included a list of Companion volumes published by Cambridge University Press, which you should be able to delve into for background material and current thought about some of the texts we are studying. The links take you to the publisher’s web site, but you can also find these volumes in the university library (where indicated by a call number) and sometimes in local bookshops.

  1. The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature (PR173 .C36 1991)
  2. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Romance (PN671 .C36 2000)
  3. The Cambridge Chaucer Companion (PR1924 .C28 1986 )
  4. The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 1500-1600 (PR413 .C29 2000)
  5. The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism
  6. The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama, 2nd end (PR651 .C36 1990)
  7. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare (PR2894 .C33 2001)
  8. The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry, Donne to Marvell (PR541 .C36 1993)
  9. The Cambridge Companion to Milton, 2nd edn
  10. The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 1650-1740 (PR437 .C36 1998)
  11. The Cambridge Companion to Eighteenth-Century Poetry (PR551 .C27 2001 )
  12. The Cambridge Companion to Samuel Johnson (PR3534 .C34 1997)

Also, check out the Electronic Beowulf.

FAQ for Tests

Q: How many questions will be on the test?

A: If you’re worried about the number of questions, it is probably just to ease your anxiety. The test is designed to be finished easily with lots of time to spare. Really. You may also be trying to perform some weird calculation about how much studying you should do. The worst thing you can do is make the number of questions an excuse to learn less. I can assess your understanding of the material regardless of the number of questions. My advice is that your make it a priority to use studying for tests as an excuse to make sure that the course material does not just go into short term memory. Remember that your education should be about personal growth.

Q: What should I focus on?

A: Focusing involves narrowing your vision and letting items on the periphery fade from your consciousness. To study for the test, focus on what we have covered in our class, and let other classes and other areas of your life (temporarily) fade. But don’t do that with anything we covered in the class. To understand the material, you need to pay attention to how all the pieces of the puzzle work together. Try to create a story based on the material we covered. Some items may be less important in the story than others, but deciding which items are and aren’t important will help you learn the story without ignoring things.

Q: How should I decide what is important?

A: You need a multi-part plan.

  1. Creating a mental timeline is important. Certain things occur in order relative to each other. Who wrote texts at what point in history? What was happening–either historical events or intellectual ideas–at the time of writing that might have had an impact on the literature? How long did the events or ideas continue to be relevant to writers’ works? How are two works of literature from the same period similar and different? How do they differ from works at other times in history? Remembering some dates are important for constructing mental timelines. They may be rough benchmarks, dates indicating beginnings and ends of period, or landmarks, dates of events that had particularly consequential results for long-term literary history. If you see dates in your notes, ask yourself whether they are rough benchmarks, landmarks, or incidental events that flesh out the historical period for you. If you don’t see dates in your notes, think about what dates could serve as rough benchmarks or landmarks.
  2. Understanding any period in history requires familiarity with the names of its more important people, places, events, and cultural concepts. You should able to name them (and spelling them correctly) for any given period you have studied after just a few seconds of thought. This is not just rote memorisation. You need to decide whether you can relate these names to works of literature. That is a measure of their importance.
  3. You can only understand the ideas embedded literary texts if you understand the words on the most basic level. Make sure you know the plots and the names of the characters (again, you don’t really know them if you can’t spell them correctly). You need to re-read the texts and, if possible, re-read them again. Break them down into sections and write summaries of the sections. Look especially at the sections we highlighted in class. There’s a reason why I brought them to your attention or why they came out in class discussion.
  4. Know the names of the authors and the original languages of literary works. It seems obvious, but a surprisingly large number of people don’t retain this information. Failure to learn the simplest of details about a work of literature almost always correlates to a lack of understanding of its complexities.

Q: What will the midterm be like?

A: Pretty much like the quizzes in format. It will just be longer. The scope of the material will be cumulative–meaning that it will cover everything we have discussed from the first day of class to the end of the Middle Ages. This does lead to a few differences in how you should study.

  1. You need to refresh your memory of the earlier texts we looked at. Go back and re-read them. However, look for things we have studied in or relevant to portions of the text. What themes, cultural concepts, ideas, historical events, and so on can you now see as relevant to an understanding of individual passages, which you may not have on your first reading? You may even wish to draw up some charts with individual passages and arrows to the things you think help to illuminate our understanding of the literary work.
  2. By this time in the semester, you now have the historical perspective to think about how literature changed (in terms of interests, themes, and techniques) over time. Where were the continuities between the literature before the Norman Conquest and after the Norman Conquest, for instance? This is really the one difference in the type of question I can ask on the midterm, as opposed to the first quiz. So you might want to write up some statements about how the literature we have studied developed according to changing cultural conditions (and, naturally, study what those cultural conditions were).