About

What did it mean to be an Anglo-Saxon, a Briton, an Anglo-Norman, or an Englishman? What did it mean to be a knight, a Christian, a wife, or a poet? This course will explore questions of identity and community through a survey of early English literature. By reading a selection of texts including Beowulf, The Lays of Marie de France, The Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Paradise Lost, we will track how a shared language and body of literature can contribute to the formation of communal identity. We will also address questions of individual identity formation using works such as Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, The Book of Margery Kempe, and the poems of William Shakespeare and John Donne. How does an author express or obscure his or her identity in a piece of writing? What happens when an author seeks to present or inhabit an alternative identity, writing from the perspective of an individual whose gender, class, nationality or ethnicity differs from his or her own? To explore these questions we will consider a wide variety of literary genres including historical writing, epic, romance, tragedy, farce, and lyrical poetry, taking into consideration how these different forms affect the construction of community and identity.