HS English B

Thursday, September 22

Stuff you should know about the whimsical Romantic writers:

  • What they valued (instead of what people of the Restoration valued)
  • Literally elements of Romantic literature
  • Understanding why/how the Romantics were born out of the Restoration
  • Major historical events that left the Romantics disillusioned (major wars, industrial age…)
  • Instead of a list of monarchs connected to this literary period, it is more efficient to think of the Romantic Period as being flanked by the French Revolution of the 1790s and the Parliamentary Reforms of the 1830s (the monarch was inching towards having less power anyway).

We talked about a lot of people today, all of whom would make for good biography papers. If you are interested in getting your biography paper out of the way, I suggest picking someone we’ve talked about recently. If you want to wait for a Victorian or Modern writer, that’s fine with me. Whatever you do, your biography is due in my hand no later than October 27.


Read this collection of poems, then answer the corresponding questions:


  • The author begins the poem by giving her ex permission to “gaze” upon another woman. The tone shifts in the second stanza. What’s happening here? 
  • What does the author believe to be a “fitting punishment” for her ex? 

“Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802” 

  • This poem is full of personification (metaphors that give human qualities to nonhuman things). Give three examples of personification from this poem. 
  • What do you think is the mood of the speaker in this poem? 

“When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be” 

  • What is Keats’ first worry? 
  • What is his second worry? 
  • What is the overall tone of this poem? (What does the author want you to feel?)


  • Shelley starts the poem by comparing human life to nature. What is the point he’s trying to make in the first two stanzas? 
  • The last two stanzas connect human feelings to actions. What is the point he’s trying to make in the third and fourth stanzas? 
  • What does the last line of the poem mean, in layman’s terms? 

“The Pains of Sleep” 

  • Give a couple of examples of how the speaker tries to fall asleep? 
  • What are the “Fantastic passions” he references in the second stanza? 
  • Why is the speaker struggling to sleep? 

If you’re so inclined, peruse other Romantic poets and bring in a poem you like or hate. You are welcome to go across the pond and pick an American writer.

Thursday, September 15

Here are the things that should’ve landed in your notes:

  • Shift from the House of Tudor to the House of Stuart
  • The Interregnum
  • What “Restoration” means
  • Enlightenment/Age of Reason
  • Why the 18th Century is sometimes referred to as the Augustan Age*
  • Age of Satire (and why everyone was so salty)
  • The House of Hanover from Germany (with four King Georges in a row)

*We ran out of time in the 9 a.m. class – I intended to talk more about the writers you’ve been reading and why this time period is also known as the Augustan Age. We’ll catch up with those details next week.

I will not test you on England’s line of succession. HOWEVER, I will expect you to explain why/how certain monarchs or series of monarchs influenced the literature at the time – basically why their reign(s) mattered. It will be helpful to have these things in your notes.


Read the four poems on this handout. Then, answer the response questions below.

From “On Stella’s Birthday”:

  • Records show that Jonathan Swift met Esther (“Stella”) for the first time when she was between 6 and 8 years old. Why then do you think he says “Since first I saw Thee at Sixteen”? Those numbers don’t add up.
  • Normally, a love poem wouldn’t reference a woman’s weight (notice how he said her size and years are doubled). What does this indicate about Swift’s love for her? There are clues in the text. 

From “On the Day of Judgment”:

  • In a poem about the in-fighting between Christian sects, why do you think Jonathan Swift positions Jove (Jupiter, king of the gods in Ancient Rome) as God? 
  • Summarize Jove’s message to the fighting Christians. 

From the snippet from “An Essay on Criticism”:

  • What is Alexander Pope saying about the difference between shallow learning and deep learning? 
  • He uses metaphors to reference how far we can go with educating ourselves (whether we are mature enough for it or not). Pull out the metaphors you see and explain them.

Read this page on Phillis Wheatley. Then read “On Virtue” on the handout.  Share your thoughts about Phillis and her poem.

Thanks to all of you who brought in poetry to read in class today. I love that so much. If you are so inclined, please look up a poem from either the Restoration/1700s in England or any other Early American poetry that resonates with you. We are jumping across the pond to learn about Phillis Wheatley, so you’re welcome to see what else was being written in America in the 1700s. (Anne Bradstreet is recognized as the first American female poet, so maybe she’s someone to explore.) THANKS FOR PLAYING ALONG!

Thursday, September 8

Below are the things you should have in your notes from today:

  • Estates Satire and all of its levels (including the Feminine Estates and the Emerging Estates Chaucer included in his tales)
  • Iambic Pentameter and Rhyme Royal
  • Internal/External Descriptions of the pilgrims (general understanding about how they differed)
  • Pilgrimage as a metaphor for Life’s Journey

We started talking about the Renaissance period today (1485-1660), a time of exploration, invention, and creation. The Rise of Humanism was a big deal, as there was a stronger interest in philosophy, art, literature, and return to the Greek Classics. (“Renaissance” translates to “rebirth”.)

I won’t ask you to map out Henry VIII’s family tree, but I do want you to understand the nonsense they all went through to get to Queen Elizabeth I. (An entire church was born out of that time just so Henry VIII could get a divorce! That is serious family drama.) When you think of the Renaissance, think of the Golden Age of England and Queen Elizabeth’s role in it.

Also in your notes should be common elements of Renaissance poetry:

  • Rise in sonnets and pastorals
  • Carpe Diem as a prominent concept
  • Metaphysical Conceits (abstract, complex, and clever metaphors)


Read the following poems and answer their related questions in a new Google Doc by Wednesday night. These poems are much more approachable and way shorter than anything I’ve had you read so far.

Then, read through this post on Poetry Foundation about the English Renaissance. From the links provided, select a poem that resonates with you (for better or worse) and bring it to class to share with everyone. There are plenty of poets to choose from, including a small collection written by Queen Elizabeth I. Come prepared to tell the class why you liked (or hated) the poem.

Thursday, September 1

We’re moving along in our timeline while staying in the Middle Ages. Here are a few things that should’ve landed in your notes today:

  • Poetic and other literary elements in Beowulf: Alliterative verses, Kennings, and Caesura, Structure, POV, Symbolism, Themes, and Allegory
  • Comitatus
  • Gilgamesh (oldest known epic poem), Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey
  • The Norman Invasion in 1066 marked the end of Anglo-Saxon England and the beginning of Feudalism, a “top-down” hierarchy way of governing.
  • Shift from Old English to Middle English (Anglo-Norman mix)
  • Geoffrey Chaucer (wrote in vernacular, the Father of English Poetry, began Canterbury Tales in 1387, iambic pentameter, etc.)

This is just a general list and would not be sufficient for your semester test, so always be sure you’re jotting things down and making notes as we chat.

Two things to keep in mind:

  • You have a biography paper to write soon, and Geoffrey Chaucer is the first option on the list of people you can write about. You’ll have a handful of options in the coming weeks as we explore more writers and poets, so if Geoff isn’t interesting to you, no big deal. The biography paper is due before fall break.
  • You have a spring research project/paper due at the end of April. I say this now because the topic of that paper is entirely your choice, as long as it relates to something we’ve talked about in class. Some of you were particularly interested in the Beowulf/JRR Tolkien connection, so that’s a good example of something you could explore for your project.


You are welcome in advance for not assigning the whole of the Canterbury Tales for homework, as that would be cruel and unusual punishment. But, it’s a pivotal work and one that you should be familiar with.

This week, read the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (click here to read/print the PDF). It’s been translated to Modern English, but you can click here to read the original version in Middle English, which is definitely more approachable than Old English.

Take your time reading this work. Print it out if that’s helpful to you. Pay attention to the metered verse. Look for bits of satire, when Chaucer is poking a little fun at his characters.

Then, create a new Google Doc and summarize each of the pilgrims. Remember, the host/narrator talks about each of the people going on this journey to Canterbury, so we’re viewing the characters through his eyes. What do they look like? Seem like? Who in the group is traveling together? (For example, the Knight is traveling with his son the Squire.) If you aren’t familiar with certain terms, look them up! (For example, a Franklin is a medieval landowner of noble birth.)

Pull from the text to support your answers. Share your Google Doc by Wednesday night.

Thursday, August 25

I’m so glad that many of you are enjoying Beowulf more than you expected to. For those of you who are suffering through this epic poem, sit tight! It’s almost over.

There are a number of things that should’ve landed in your notes today:

  • Details about Anglo-Saxon England and its tight-knit communities (as they are both the author and the audience of our story)
  • Important things we learn in the first 100+ lines of Beowulf
  • The Anglo-Saxon Heroic Code
  • Epic Hero vs. Tragic Hero
  • The function of frame stories in the text

We didn’t get into the literary/poetic elements, but jot these things down and we’ll tackle them next week:

  • Alliterative verses
  • Compounding
  • Kennings
  • Caesura
  • Symbolism, Theme, and Allegory


Finish reading Beowulf. Then answer the following response questions in your Google Doc by Wednesday night.

  1. Beowulf brings to Hrothgar the gold hilt of the sword he used to kill Grendel’s mother. Engraved on it is the story of Noah and the Great Flood (lines 1687-1699). The author continues to dabble in both paganism (fate) and Christianity (God’s Will). Why do both? 
  2. Beowulf’s final battle is looming. It comes after his peaceful 50-year reign back in Geatland. Instead of bearing confidence and pride, Beowulf suffers foreboding (lines 2419-2424). Why do you think his mind frame has changed? Is his decision to fight the dragon a good decision?
  3. Upon Beowulf’s deathbed, what does he ask of Wiglaf? (Lines 2729-2751) Why do you think he asks this? 
  4. Once Beowulf is dead, Wiglaf laments about the fate of the Geats. What are all of his worries and complaints? Are his anger and fear justified? (lines 2884-2914)
  5. Give three examples from the text that exhibit the Anglo-Saxon Heroic Code. 
  6. Do you agree with Tolkien – is Beowulf a Heroic Elegy? Or is it an Epic Poem? First explain what each is, then tell me which one you think best defines Beowulf. (Also, come to class prepared to discuss this question.) 
  7. What are your thoughts on Beowulf? Tell me why you liked/disliked it. 

Thursday, August 18

We are kicking off the year with about eight weeks of poetry. We’re starting with the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf and will work our way through various eras and styles leading up to fall break.

In general, poetry can be categorized by pattern or by purpose. I gave you examples of both today, so be sure you keep those notes handy for your end-of-the-semester test. (Tests are open notes!) There are dozens of types of poetry, but we won’t get to all of them. There’s no time or energy for that. Instead, we’ll explore examples of well-known poets and you’ll do your own exploration in a few weeks.

Beowulf is one of those works that feels overwhelming, like it’s not a story you’re going to understand or even like. If you feel that way, no sweat. My main goal is to help you understand the plot so you can appreciate the poem for its prominent place in literature.

As I told you in class, critics largely agree that the author of the poem was a Northumbrian scop (storyteller) and that he was likely a monk since they were tasked with transcribing and keeping ahold of important documents. Somehow the text survived all of King Henry VIII’s church burnings because the document surfaced in 1563 under the first recorded owner – Laurence Nowell. He studied Old English and actually wrote his name on the top of the document.

Beowulf then entered the famous collection of Sir Robert Cotton (who also owned a copy of the Magna Carta). Sir Robert Cotton passed down Beowulf to his son, Sir Thomas Cotton, who then passed it down to his son, Sir John Cotton, who died in 1702 and left the document to the nation. The Cotton Library helped form the early collections of the British Museum in the mid-1700s. Beowulf was transferred to the British Library, where it currently lives, in 1973.

A few other tidbits:

  • The first printed translation is dated 1815 by GJ Thorkelin, who was from Iceland and was researching Denmark at the time.
  • In 1845, the British Museum began the preservation process to repair the damaged document. (It was nearly burned in a fire while still in the Cotton family’s possession.)
  • JRR Tolkien can take the credit for putting Beowulf on everyone’s radar. He worked on a translation of the poem and published a noteworthy essay in 1926 called “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”.
  • Beowulf was digitized in 1993.
  • You’ll be reading Seamus Haney’s translation from 2001, so the modern language should be approachable.

Beowulf isn’t meant to be read. It was an oral tale, which will be noticeable with certain sections because it will feel like you’re reading a lot of speeches. We’ll get into the Anglo-Saxon way of life next week.


Read lines 1-1631 in Beowulf. Take your time. Refer to the pronunciation guide when necessary! Or, if you want the story to be read to you (while you follow along in your book), click here to listen to Seamus Heaney read his translation aloud.

When you’re finished, answer the following questions substantively in a Google Document and share it with me by Wednesday night.

  1. The first 63 lines of prologue tell a few stories about former Dane warriors/heroes, essentially the lineage of how the Danes wound up with Hrothgar as their king. Why do you think the author of Beowulf set up the story this way? Does the lineage matter? 
  2. Grendel is introduced early in the story as a descendant of “Cain’s clan” (line 106). Why do you think the author chose to connect the monster to a Biblical character (i.e., the first murderer)?
  3. Though Beowulf enters the story around line 194, we don’t get his name until line 343. Why all the build-up and drama? How does this build-up match the boasting and drinking that goes on in the mead hall until line 661? 
  4. So Grendel goes to the mead hall like usual to grab a snack, not expecting Beowulf at all. In the end, while all the Geats are fighting unsuccessfully with their swords, how does Beowulf defeat the monster? (lines 781-836, 962-973)  What does this tell you about the warrior AND the monster?
  5. We are introduced to Grendel’s mother, whose descriptions are worse than her son’s! (line 1258-1263) Based on her quiet approach and revenge, what’s the image you have of her in your mind? 
  6. Lines 1345-1382 offer a better picture of Grendel and his mother’s history, where they come from (mostly unknown) and where they live (too scary to explore). Of course, Beowulf takes this as a challenge with encouraging words to Hrothgar (lines 1383-1396). Compare and contrast Beowulf and King Hrothgar in this scene. How are they similar, how are they different?
  7. Beowulf finds Grendel’s lifeless body in the cave and decides to chop off his head as a trophy. Why do you think he does this? 


This course is all about exposure to diverse works and will be structured around the three primary genres of literature: poetry, prose, and drama.

Students will read a wide range of award-winning classic and contemporary works. We’ll discuss plot, character, literary elements, and methods, and they’ll write a couple of essays and complete one research project in the spring. Students will be expected to participate in class discussions by contributing their own thoughts, ideas, and questions. Since we’ll be acting out scenes from the plays we read, it will be necessary to have a handful of brave students willing to participate!

This class is designed for upper-level high school students who are capable of critical thought, participating in discussions, and writing academic essays in MLA format. Students must have a gmail account with Google Drive, as this is how most work will be submitted and graded. Some works have more mature concepts in them, so, as always, I recommend parents read these works alongside their students (or preview them beforehand).

There are five primary elements to this class:       

  • Assigned reading: Students will have something to read almost weekly, so it’s imperative to keep up. Since everything overlaps, falling behind on reading leads to falling behind on everything else. 
  • Response questions: I’ll post critical thinking questions each week related to whatever we’re reading. Answers need to be substantive, meaning they need to have some substance to them. Short answers won’t be given as much credit as longer, thoughtful answers. Response questions need to be turned in by the Wednesday evening prior to class to receive full credit.           
  • Two biographical essays           
  • Semester Tests
  • Spring Research Project

Tests are open notes, so your ability to pay attention, take notes, and keep organized is always rewarded. Bring a writing utensil and your notebook to class every week.

Fall Required Reading: Beowulf (translation by Seamus Haney), Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier, Kindred by Octavia Butler; poetry and short stories will be provided

Spring Required Reading: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, Julius Caesar (No Fear Shakespeare), Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides (ISBN-13: 978-0195077094) , The Crucible by Arthur Miller; short stories will be provided