I was the Instructor of Record for ENGL 3300: British Literature I during the fall semester of 2016 and was the Teaching Assistant for the class during the spring semester of 2016. I designed the class to introduce students to major, canonical works of British literature from the Anglo-Saxon period to the 18th century while also exposing them to as many works by women during those periods as possible.
This class is a broad survey of British literature, from its beginnings in the Anglo-Saxon period through the Middle Ages and Renaissance to the early part of the Enlightenment. The class emphasizes historical and cultural backgrounds for the literature studied, which includes canonical works such as Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, and Paradise Lost, along with works not traditionally included in the largely male-authored canon of British literature, such as the Lais of Marie de France, poetry by Queen Elizabeth I, and the sonnets of Lady Mary Wroth. The class also includes an introduction to earlier forms of English, including Old English and Middle English. Course requirements include short, in-class writing exercises, active class participation, and three writing assignments or essays.
I teach Beowulf over three classes, having students read about a third of the poem at a time. This lesson, which is developed over these three classes, focuses on the themes of kingship and heroism in the poem, two major concerns in Anglo-Saxon literature and culture.
Reading: Lines 1-1049 of Beowulf; I assign Roy Liuzza's translation from Broadview.
I break the class into small groups and assign each group three sections of the assigned reading.
Groups should discuss evidence from their sections that answers the following questions: According to this poem, what is a good king? What is a good hero? Are these the same or different?
After the groups have time to talk about this, I ask them to present some of their findings.
I make two lists on the board: "Kings" and "Heroes." I list characteristics under each.
Then I discuss with students that the ideal characteristics of heroes and kings are different, especially in early literature and folklore (kings are expected to be generous, to care for their people above themselves, to engage heroes to help; heroes are expected to provide help, to be brave and to boast and to back those boasts up, for a few short examples).
I take a picture of the board after we're done or write down notes for later reference.
I introduce the concept of "digressions" to the class and we identify a few of them within Beowulf (lines 867-915 and 1063-1159, for example).
I ask the class what these digressions might be commenting on or critiquing. For this lesson, lines 867-915, the digression with Sigemund and Heremod is particularly relevant.
We talk about how Sigemund exemplifies the characteristics of a good king and Heremod those of a bad king. We also talk about how the story of Beowulf is potentially paired with Sigemund and Heremod--what does this say about Beowulf? Beowulf will eventually be king: but will he be a good or bad one? This discussion helps strengthen students' understanding of Anglo-Saxon ideals of kingship and heroism.
Before class starts, I write "Kings" and "Heroes" on the board and list the characteristics we've identified in earlier classes under them.
I ask students to review what makes a good king and hero in Anglo-Saxon literature and we add any last characteristics to the lists that students would like to add.
I then ask students to split into several groups and to come to a consensus: Who was the better king in this poem: Hrothgar or or Beowulf? Why? I remind them that they need to judge this based on Anglo-Saxon norms and culture, not ours!
Each group then makes their argument based on evidence from the text and by connecting instances from the text to the characteristics we highlighted in our lists.