English 258: Major English Authors I

About the Course

This course surveys literature from the earliest period of British literary history 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 early British literature 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

  • Time: MW 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM (Course Number 14079)
  • Location: Online
  • Office Location: Online
  • Office Hours: By appointment (please contact me via the Canvas mail system)


We are using a custom course pack based on The Broadview Anthology British Literature, 3nd 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. The PDF version is actually $2 cheaper than the custom edition and is in a good move if you need the textbook in a hurry.

If you have a digital version of the textbook, it is a good idea to print out a copy of the text we are studying whilst we are Zooming so that you do not have to swap between the Zoom screen and the text.


The class will have meetings on Zoom every Monday at 11:00. These meetings will last approximately 30-45 minutes and will consist of a combination of lecture and question/discussion time. The remainder of our assigned class time is intended for asynchronous work, especially on the Canvas discussion forum. Attendance at the meetings is not required; however, if you do not attend, you are encouraged to watch the recordings, which will be posted on Canvas shortly after the session. The Zoom link and will be available on the Canvas course site. Attendance at the Zoom meetings constitutes your permission for the meeting to be recorded and made available only through the Canvas course site.

Coursework and Grading

Your grade will consist of the following elements: a journal, posts to an online forum, multiple short quizzes, and a final exam.

Journal (10%)

Throughout the course, you will keep a journal (a simple word processing file) detailing your thoughts and questions about the reading. Journal entries may contain summaries of the text, interpretations, questions, and notes. Full details are given in a separate journal assignment on Canvas.

Forum Posts (35%)

You will be required to contribute two posts on the Canvas discussion forum in response to prompts I provide. The drafts for your posts may be entries in your journal, and they should be well thought out mini essays. Additional posts (including the introduction of new topics) and responses to earlier posts will count towards your grade for the forum. Full details are given in a separate forum assignment on Canvas.

Quizzes (40%)

There will be four quizzes administered via Canvas, which will consist of a combination of multiple choice, fill in the blank, and short answer questions. These quizzes will be partially graded by me and partially graded by you using a rubric designed to assess your progress in meeting the course objectives.

Final Exam (15%)

There will be one-hour exam at the end of the course administered via Canvas. The exam will be similar in format to the 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 any 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.

Late Submission Policy

Journal assignments are due on the dates given on the class schedule. If you have a problem meeting the assignment deadline, please contact me. If you do not contact me, I will not provide as much feedback on the journal, and you may only receive partial credit.

Forum posts should be submitted at least 24 hours prior to our scheduled discussion of the subject matter. If your post is a response to our discussion, it may be submitted up to a week after the discussion begins. Posts submitted on or after the date of the final exam will not be counted.

I typically make online tests available for a 24 hour period. If you do not take the test during this period, I am not required to provide you with the opportunity to take make-up tests. 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

In some semesters opportunities may arise for non-required activities such as guest lectures, and I will offer extra credit for attendance at or participation in these activities. I will always offer this extra credit to the entire class. Because my time commitments do not allow me to grade extra assignments, I do not award extra credit to individual students for any reason. I keep to this policy very strictly.

Preparation and Participation

In order to receive full credit in the course, you must do the readings in advance, be prepared to discuss the texts in our online forum, and complete all assignments. You are not required to attend synchronous Zoom sessions, but, if you do not, it is highly recommended that you watch the recordings, which will be posted on Canvas.

Code of Conduct

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. I reserve the right to ask you to leave Zoom sessions, ban you from the forum, and/or impose grade penalties if you cause disruptions of any sort to the learning environment.

To receive a passing grade in this class, you must abide by the terms of the code of conduct outlined below. This code is based on the one produced by Northeastern University's Feminist Coding Collective, adapted by Ryan Cordell.

  • It’s okay not to know: Assume that no one inherently knows what we’re learning. We all come to this class with different backgrounds and abilities; none of us (including the instructor) will know everything and that is okay! Encourage a space where it’s okay to ask questions.
  • Be respectful: Do not use harmful language or stereotypes that target people of all different gender, abilities, races, ages, ethnicities, languages, socioeconomic classes, body types, sexualities, and other aspects of identity.
  • Online spaces: Respect each other in both physical and digital spaces.
  • Collaborative and inclusive interactions: Avoid speaking over each other. Instead, we want to practice listening to each other and speaking with each other, not at each other.
  • Use “I” statements: focusing on your own interpretation of a situation, rather than placing blame or critiquing someone else.
  • Harassment clause: The following behaviours are considered harassment and unacceptable in this community (these are borrowed from the Django Code of Conduct):
    • Violent threats or language directed against another person.
    • Discriminatory jokes and language.
    • Posting sexually explicit or violent material.
    • Posting (or threatening to post) other people’s personally identifying information (“doxing”).
    • Personal insults, especially those using racist or sexist terms.
    • Unwelcome sexual attention.
    • Advocating for, or encouraging, any of the above behaviour.
    • Repeated harassment of others. In general, if someone asks you to stop, then stop.

See further the statement on Diversity and Inclusion below.

Professional Courtesy

Throughout the class, you are expected to conduct yourself professionally. This means respecting your professor and your classmates by producing work that is well-edited and free from spelling and grammatical errors. My own posts on the forum should be a standard for you to emulate (which is not to say that I will never make mistakes). Putting effort into polishing your writing is a professional courtesy to others; not doing so is insulting.

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.

Diversity and Inclusion

CSUN values an inclusive learning environment, where we respect the varied perspectives and experiences of a diverse community. Students and faculty each have responsibility for maintaining a respectful space to express their opinions. Professional courtesy and consideration for our classroom community are especially important with respect to topics dealing with differences in race, colour, gender and gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, disability, and age.

As a “responsible employee” at CSUN, I am required by federal and state laws to report incidences of harassment and discrimination to the campus Title IX Coordinator if they are disclosed to me. If you have experienced harassment or discrimination and do not want the Title IX Coordinator notified, instead of disclosing the experience to me, you can speak confidentially with CSUN’s Care Advocate by calling (818) 677-7492. For more information regarding your university rights and options, please visit the University’s Title IX website at http://www.csun.edu/title-ix.

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 completing the reading by the date for which the reading is assigned. Page numbers for background readings refer to the custom Broadview Anthology unless otherwise stated. In general, you should locate texts using your book's table of contents. Prior to the scheduled class, you should read the relevant posts on the Canvas discussion forum. In addition to the assigned readings on the schedule, you will receive regular announcements of supplementary videos and/or presentations through Canvas.

Day Date Readings
MON 08/24 Introduction
WED 08/26

Reading: Extracts from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, pp. 36-46 (the first three extracts)

Background Reading: pp. 1-11; Introducing the Literature of the Middle Ages, pp. 1-12

MON 08/31

Reading: Bede, pp. 46-50 (the last extract)

Background Reading: Introducing the Literature of the Middle Ages, pp. 1-12, 20-24

WED 09/02

Reading: The Wanderer (pp. 51-54)

Background Reading: pp. 29-31

WED 09/09

Reading: The Dream of the Rood, pp. 55-34

MON 09/14

Reading: Beowulf, ll. 1-990

Please also look at the helpful background material on pp. 103-107.

WED 09/16

Reading: Beowulf, ll. 991-1887

MON 09/21

Reading: Beowulf, ll. 1888-2390

WED 09/23

Reading: Beowulf, ll. 2391-3182

MON 09/28

Reading: Lanval, ll. 1-414

Background Reading: pp. 12-20; History of Medieval England (1066-1413)

WED 09/30

Reading: Lanval, ll. 415-646

MON 10/05

Background Reading: Introducing the Literature of the Middle Ages, pp. 12-16, 25-26; Reading Middle English

WED 10/07

Reading: The General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, ll. 1-358

MON 10/12 Reading: The General Prologue, ll. 359-858
WED 10/14

Reading: The Miller's Prologue and Tale from The Canterbury Tales, ll. 1-387

MON 10/19

Reading: The Miller's Tale from The Canterbury Tales, ll. 388-746

WED 10/21

Background Reading: British History (1485-1714)

MON 10/26

Reading: Christopher Marlowe, "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" (pp. 221-223), and Sir Walter Raleigh, "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd" (pp. 218-220) (please read the Marlowe poems first)

Background Reading: pp.166-185; 200-211; 215-217

WED 10/28

Background Reading: How to Understand Early Modern Poetry

MON 11/02

Reading: Shakespeare’s sonnets 18, 19, and 55

WED 11/04 Reading: Shakespeare’s sonnets 127, 129, 130, 138
MON 11/09

Reading: John Donne, "The Flea" and "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"

MON 11/16

Reading: Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus, Prologue and Act I

WED 11/18

Reading: Doctor Faustus, Acts II-IV

MON 11/23

Reading: Doctor Faustus, Act V and Epilogue

WED 11/25

Reading: Paradise Lost, Book I, ll. 1-330

MON 11/30

Reading: Paradise Lost, Book I, ll. 331-798

WED 12/02

Reading: John Wilmot, Early of Rochester, "A Satire on Charles II" and "The Imperfect Enjoyment"; Aphra Behn, "The Disappointment"

MON 12/07 Review
WED 12/09 Final Exam



  1. Oxford English Dictionary (through Oviatt Library)

Online Resources

  1. English 258 Timeline

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)

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).