Instructor: Victoria Wiet Monday & Wednesdays, 3:00-4:15 pm | Location: Sever 103
This course explores how the relatively new cultural form of the novel represented and responded to the new features of social life that characterized nineteenth-century Britain. The nineteenth century was a period of drastic historical change in which the institutions that...
Instructor: Thomas Wisniewski, PhD Lecturer on Comparative Literature Day & Time: Mondays & Wednesdays 3:15–6:15pm (EDT) Summer 7-week session | CRN 33785 Limited to 45 Students
In literature, as in life, humor often takes us by surprise. Why? Laughter, in many ways, is a mystery, and literary criticism has always been more comfortable dealing with tragedy than comedy. Taking comedy seriously, this course provides a broad investigation into the myriad functions of humor (psychological, sociological, philosophical, and dramatic) and explores why what we find...
Instructor: Daniel Donoghue Day & Time: Tuesdays & Thursdays 12-1:15pm Course Website From its obscure origins, over its long history, and with today’s global reach, the English language has meant many things to the people who use it. It also prompts many questions. Why is pronunciation at odds with spelling? What happened to "thou"? What did Shakespeare sound like? How do we know? Why the love/hate relationship with grammar scolds? What about the future of English as a world language? Knowing the fascinating backstory of the language will give you more confidence as a writer; it also sharpens your skills as a reader as you see things you never noticed before. A final promise: geeking out will equip you to win countless arguments with friends, roommates, and family.
Instructor: Gordon Teskey Day & Time: Mondays & Wednesdays 4:30-5:45pm Course Website An introduction to the Bible, which William Blake called 'the great code of art.' The course gives an overview of the biblical writings, of the religions that arose from them, and the arts they inspired: church music, architecture, painting, and poetry. Attention will be given especially to English poetry, from the Old English Genesis to Spenser, Milton, Hopkins, Eliot, Jones, and popular songs. Even for non-religious authors, the Bible is a rich source of images and spiritual energy. Students may create art projects in response to their chosen parts of the Bible.
The Supervising Reading and Research tutorial is a type of student-driven independent study offering individual instruction in subjects of special interest that cannot be studied in regular courses. English 91r is supervised by a member of the English Department faculty. It is a graded course and may not be taken more than twice, and only once for concentration credit. Students must submit a proposal and get approval from the faculty member with whom they wish to work.
Proposed syllabi and faculty approval must be submitted and verified by the English Department Undergraduate Office by the Course Registration Deadline.
Instructor: Lee Damrosch, PhD Day & Time: Tuesdays & Thursdays 8:30-11:30am (EDT) Summer 7-week session | CRN 35000 Limited to 35 students
This course is a study of major eighteenth-century autobiographical, fictional, and philosophical texts that explore the paradoxes of the modern self at a time when traditional religious and philosophical explanations were breaking down. Writers to be read include Mme. de Lafayette, Boswell, Voltaire, Gibbon, Diderot, Rousseau, Laclos, Franklin, and Blake. Due to the condensed summer schedule, the longer works, such as...
Instructor: Tara Menon Monday, 12:45-2:45pm | Location: TBA Enrollment: Limited to 15 students
How do we write about death and mourning? Can literature help us cope with the pain of loss? What techniques do writers employ to convey grief? Can we make the dead immortal through words? In this course, we will read (and watch) widely, from Greek plays to nineteenth-century elegies to twentieth-century memoirs and twenty-first century television. Across genres, we will pay particular attention to form and the techniques of close reading. Works by writers including: Sophocles, Tennyson, Dickinson, Auden, Hopkins, Hardy, Shelly, Joan Didion, Jesmyn Ward, Max Porter, Helen McDonald, Angie Thomas, Sonali Deranyigala.
We'll look at poems, poets, kinds of poems, and their histories by thinking about the people the poems project: how does a piece of writing in verse (or in lyrical prose) work to let us imagine a person behind it, either its author or its character? When does the poem, instead, imagine you? How do poems entice us to care about them, and about the people they project? We'll look at historically major authors, likely with a special focus on Donne, Pope, Hughes, Bishop and Moore, along with contemporary poets including Estes, Hayes and Youn.
Instructor: Ju Yon Kim Tuesday & Thursday, 12-1:15pm | This course will be taught remotely, via Zoom, in Spring 2022. Course Website
This course will examine horror—defined expansively to include the uncanny, the abject, the monstrous, and the ghostly—in American literature, considering its formal and aesthetic implications and its relationship to major cultural and social issues. What are the methods and theories that critics have used to study horror in literature? How and to what effect have works of American literature used horror to reflect on contemporary social concerns or to depict historical events? We will explore a range of literary works from the nineteenth century to the present next to critical and theoretical studies of horror and the Gothic.
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Migrations" requirement for the Class of 2022 and was formerly offered as English 60a. Migrations: American Horrors.
Enrollment: Each section is limited to 27 students
This foundational course for English concentrators examines literary form and genre. We explore some of the many kinds of literature as they have changed over time, along with the shapes and forms that writers create, critics describe, and readers learn to recognize. The body of the course looks to the great literary types, or modes, such as epic, tragedy, and lyric, as well as to the workings of literary style in moments of historical change, producing the transformation, recycling, and sometimes the mocking of past forms. While each version of English 20 includes a different array of genres and texts from multiple periods, those texts will always include five major works from across literary history: Beowulf (epic), King Lear (tragedy), Persuasion (comic novel), The Souls of Black Folk (essays; expository prose), and Elizabeth Bishop’s poems (lyric). The course integrates creative writing with critical attention: assignments will take creative as well as expository and analytical forms.
Note: English 20 is one of the required Common Courses for English concentrators and Secondaries in the Classes of 2023, 2024, and 2025 and is a limited enrollment course which will prioritize sophomores and first-years; juniors and seniors who want to take it as an elective will be considered for any remaining spots. Enrollment priority exceptions may be made for people changing concentrations or presenting other notable reasons
This course, taught in small groups and required for concentrators, introduces theories, interpretive frameworks, and central questions about literature and literary media. What do we do when we read? What is an author? What do we mean by “literature” itself? How might we compare and evaluate interpretations? How do the historical, social, cultural, and legal frameworks around a text shape its meanings and its effects? Combining major critical and theoretical writings with primary works, the course investigates how literary production and interpretation are informed by philosophical and aesthetic traditions, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, national and post-colonial identities, and the material forms in which literature circulates, from parchment books to the internet. Students will also practice fundamental literary research methods through close engagement with Harvard libraries.
Note: English 97 is one of the required Common Courses for English concentrators in the Classes of 2023, 2024, and 2025 and is open to sophomores and first-years planning to concentrate in English. Enrollment priority exceptions may be made for people changing concentrations or presenting other notable reasons.
Old English poems love to recycle age-old wisdom in what are called “gnomic” verses. Usually expressed in laconic language and embedded in various genres of poems, the meaning of these passages can be unclear: Soð bið swicolost could be translated as “Truth is complicated.” Their prevalence, however, suggests that the wisdom they conveyed was held in universal esteem. This course will examine the structure, content, and context of gnomic verses from multiple angles. In addition to our daily translations, we will pursue questions such as: What are the sources of these passages? What ideological/religious beliefs do they reflect? How do they function within the various literary genres where they occur? What is the importance of these passages in Beowulf? We will also compare Old Norse/Icelandic and Old Irish wisdom literature (in translation) as we attempt to understand this fascinating and challenging aspect of Old English literature. Prerequisite: one term of Old English or the equivalent.
Note: English 102 is a prerequisite for English 103. Students who complete both English 102 and 103 with honors grades will fulfill the College language requirement and the English Department's Foreign Language Literature requirement.
Epic is one of the most enduring and far-reaching forms of artistic expression. From the heroic poems of the ancient Near East to modern films of quest and adventure, epic speaks to the shared values and collective aspirations of cultures, peoples, and communities. But if it’s formal conventions and thematic interests endure, epic changes over time. In this course, you will study the historical and literary evolution of epic as it moves from oral verse into new genres and media, reading texts from the ancient Mediterranean alongside works of poetry, fiction, and cinema from early modern Britain, twentieth-century America, and the contemporary Global South. We will look at some texts in their entirety and others in extracts, focusing on Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeneid, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Derek Walcott’s Omeros, The Mahabharata (in prose and film versions), and George Lucas’ Star Wars, with detailed analysis of Gwendolyn Brooks’s American epics on Black life, Annie Allen and In the Mecca. If issues of identity, belonging, and community have always been explored in epic, what is the place of epic in a pluralist multi-culture? What are our contemporary epics today?
How did writers and audiences imagine the world before modernity? This course offers an introduction to the first 1000 years of English literature (roughly 700-1700) and the shifting terms through which writers were able to imagine the world beyond their borders. We will encounter hardy seafarers, fantastical monsters, and real and imagined peoples at the margins of Europe and beyond. We will study the genres of travel narrative, romance, epic, drama, and lyric, and the different ways these forms registered global connections, ideas of race, and cultural and religious difference. We will pay particular attention to the accelerated pace of global
encounters and connections starting in the Renaissance, and the ways that English literature was able (or not) to register new peoples and places, new forms of economic connectivity, and the violence of colonialism and empire.
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Arrivals" requirement for the Class of 2022.
This class is an introduction to Shakespeare’s writings and their representations of sex, gender, romance, love, and queerness. We will study poems about erotic and queer desire, plays that stage ideas about gender and gender fluidity, and film adaptations that bring modern perspectives to race and sexuality. Readings will include such plays as Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titus Andronicus, Macbeth, and Measure for Measure; Shakespeare’s Sonnets; and films by Derek Jarman, Baz Luhrmann, and Julie Taymor. Throughout our course, we will ask: how are the forms of gender identity and sexual expression we encounter in Shakespeare’s works familiar, or different? How might they challenge, inspire, or disturb us today?
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Shakespeare" requirement for the Class of 2022.
What does the novel still have to offer? As newer genres—movies, television, Youtube, TikTok—compete for our attention, why do people still immerse themselves long works of prose fiction? And why do certain nineteenth-century British novels continue to captivate so many readers to this day? In this course, we will read five nineteenth-century novels by five authors that many consider to be the greatest writers that have ever lived: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. We will pay close attention to technique: how do these novels work? And we will also explore social and political themes: what are these novels about? At every stage, we will consider the unique capacities of narrative fiction: what can the novel do that other genres can’t? Implicitly and explicitly, this course will argue first, that these superlative nineteenth-century novels let us see the world (not only then but also now) in new ways, and second, that the novel is a tool for thinking that beats all others. Alongside these texts, we will watch film adaptations and read excerpts of contemporary criticism and fiction to better understand the enduring legacy of these canonical works.
To many of its fans, Hamilton poses a problem. How can a show that presents so many talented artists of color still represent a white-washed American history? And how should we evaluate the show’s impact when sky-high ticket prices make it accessible primarily to a wealthy (read: white) audience? In its aspirational embrace of a multi-ethnic America and its failure fully to realize that promise itself, Hamilton embodies the paradox of Broadway.
This course examines that paradox since World War II, particularly as it pertains to multiple aspects of identity including race, gender, sexuality, disability, and age. We will examine how shows such as South Pacific, with its famous anti-racist anthem, and M. Butterfly, which explores the intersections of Orientalism, gender, and sexuality, temper their inclusive representations to appeal to a wide commercial audience. Broadway is a particularly fertile ground for exploring these issues because theatrical performances always call attention to the performative nature of subjectivity: you are what you do. As we shall see, though, theatrical performatives, instead of affirming the subjects they represent, threaten to turn those subjects into mere theater.
Our starting assumption is that many Broadway stake-holders genuinely desire broader representation in and for their work, but that the structure of the industry constrains how these shows challenge the status quo. By understanding those constraints, we will be able to critique and, perhaps, change what stories Broadway tells, who sees them, how they are marketed and, of course, “who tells your story.”
African American poets have long embraced the private freedoms of the lyric poem—freedom to claim the authority of an uncontested first person “I”; freedom to wrangle language into new and startling forms; freedom to depart as needed from the strictures of linear reality. And yet, from its earliest iterations, African American poetry has also concerned itself with correcting and complicating the official narrative of Black life and Black subjectivity in America. This course will explore the means by which Black poets have innovated upon the lyric tradition to accommodate a sense of allegiance to a collective. In this tradition, the lyric poem has become a powerful tool with which to ponder the dynamics of self and other, intimate and political—and justice and injustice. Course readings will include work by seminal 20th Century American figures such as Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden and Lucille Clifton, as well as contemporary voices like Jericho Brown, Tyehimba Jess, Morgan Parker, Eve L. Ewing and others. We will also devote attention to lyric corollaries in film, music, visual art and performance. Students will be encouraged to respond to course themes and texts in both critical and creative form.
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Poets" requirement for the Class of 2022.
A survey of the 20th-century novel, its forms, patterns of ideas, techniques, cultural context, rivalry with film and radio, short story, and fact. Wharton, Age of Innocence; Cather, My Antonia; Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms and stories; Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury and stories; Ellison, Invisible Man; Nabokov, Lolita; Robinson, Housekeeping; Salinger, Catcher in the Rye and stories; Ha Jin, Waiting; Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station. Stories by James, London, Anderson, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Gaitskill, Wallace, Beattie, Lahiri, and Ford.