HS English B

Thursday, December 1

We are in the home stretch of the semester, so this is your last batch of reading before test time. Don’t rush through the stories! You’ll be quizzed on them in short answer form. (The quiz will be short!)

Homework

Read the following stories thoroughly. Also, read through the bulleted list of test items I handed out and double-check those things are in your notes in preparation for the semester test. If you have gaps to fill, we’ll do that together next week.

Here is Ted Chiang’s work, if you’re interested: “Story of Your Life” (the source material for the film Arrival) and “Tower of Babylon” (fantastic story!)


Thursday, November 18

Today we wrapped up talking about Kindred and all the types of conflict throughout the book. Be sure you are able to write about these things come test time.

There is no homework over the break, though if you’re behind in your homework, please finish it 🙂


Thursday, November 10

We talked about characterization in Rebecca, but our focus with Kindred is all the layered and interconnected conflict. Be sure you’re able to address these things at length on the semester test.

That means, come back to class next week prepared to continue our conversation about conflict.

Homework

Finish reading Kindred. Unfortunately, we have to encounter more uncomfortable scenes and troubling situations, but hopefully the resolution of the novel will be satisfying in some way.

When you’re finished, answer the following questions substantively.

  1. How do the sensory intensities of the antebellum South compare with the hyper-mediated world of modern-day Los Angeles? This question relates to Kevin’s remark about 1976 feeling “less real” than the Antebellum  South and how he “can’t feel anything” in the modern world (191-194). 
  2. Describe Rufus’s psychological profile. What kind of adult has he become?  
  3. The motif of “acting” resurfaces in The Storm chapter.  Dana says, “Once — God knows how long ago — I had worried that I was keeping too much distance between myself and this alien time.  Now, there was no distance at all.  When had I stopped acting?  Why had I stopped?” (220).  Has Dana begun to acclimate to the antebellum South?  Why or why not?
  4. How does Dana end up losing her arm?  Is Rufus’ role in losing her arm significant?  How might the loss of Dana’s arm be symbolic?  
  5. Having returned to the present for good, Dana and Kevin travel to Maryland in order to “touch solid evidence that those people existed” (264).  Yet they find no textual traces of Dana’s African-American ancestors.  There are no legal records of slaves or slave owners and no ancestors’ grave-markers. What do you make of the erasure of textual traces?  Does it reveal anything about what Butler’s purpose might have been in writing the book?  
  6. What are your final thoughts on the novel? 

Thursday, November 3

It’s time to start another book, and while you are reading half of Kindred this week, it’s a shorter page count than Rebecca. Kindred is unlike Rebecca in a lot of ways, but my hope is that you will be intrigued enough to let the novel challenge you.

Octavia Butler is a writer I’ve wanted to teach for a long time. She was a master at science fiction and loved to create stories about “the other,” which is a important point of view coming from an African American woman who grew up in segregation and went on to win many awards for her literary work. (She would be a wonderful choice for your next biography paper.)

It’s likely you’ve never read anything like Kindred before. I expect you to feel uncomfortable with certain scenes, but you are all mature enough to grapple with the realities of what enslaved people went through. In fact, Octavia Butler studied slave narratives in preparation for writing this book.

Take note of the handout I gave you in class. There are two pieces from Octavia Butler’s personal notes about writing, which I love dearly. She endeavored to make readers FEEL something, so I hope that’s the case for you.

Also on that handout was a quote from Gerry Canavan, which drive home the complexity of the novel: “Butler’s time-traveling narrator, Dana, is alive after slavery and despite slavery, but also because of slavery, a compromised and morally fraught position that forces her to make deeply unpleasant choices in the name of preserving the circumstances that led to her own birth.”

Homework

Read the Prologue through the first six sections of “The Fight” in Kindred, which is up to page 143 in my book. The pacing in Kindred is a lot quicker than Rebecca, so you shouldn’t have any trouble jumping right into the story. As you get started, keep in mind that interracial marriage was legalized in 1967, and the present day in Kindred is the summer of 1976.

  1. Although she may never learn how she travels through time, Dana wastes little time in figuring out why she travels.  “Was that why I was here?  Not only to insure the survival of one accident-prone small boy, but to insure my family’s survival, my own birth” (29).  Here, Dana comes to realize that she will need to save a white boy in order to save herself and her black ancestors. Why might Butler depict her characters as interdependent?  Is their connection suggestive of a broader message? 
  2. Because Rufus’s personality has not yet been fully warped his circumstances, Dana believes that she might be able to shape his personality for the better.  Is it possible to offset the negative ways in which social environments mold people’s personalities?  Is it possible to re-educate people who have already hardened into something unsavory? Share your thoughts as it pertains to the book but also to things you’ve seen in real life. 
  3. Address the various points of conflict in this exchange between Dana and Kevin in “The Fall”: 

    “This could be a great time to live in,” Kevin said once. “I keep thinking what an experience it would be to stay in it—go West and watch the building of the country, see how much of the Old West mythology is true.”

    “West,” I said bitterly. “That’s where they’re doing it to the Indians instead of the blacks!” He looked at me strangely. He had been doing that a lot lately (97).
  4. At the end of Part 2 in “The Fight,” Dana reads through whatever books she can find on slavery (even stories that loosely mention slavery). Then she goes to Kevin’s WWII books and reads about the Holocaust. Why do you think Octavia Butler created a scene where Dana is considering these two injustices next to each other (the Holocaust and America’s 200 years of slavery)? What kind of comparison is she making? 
  5. After Rufus convinces Dana to burn the map, he says, “You’ll be alright here.  You’re home” (143).  What motivates that statement?  Is Rufus trying to keep Dana safe?  Or are his actions motivated by something else?
  6. What are your thoughts on the novel so far? 

Thursday, October 27

I so enjoyed our conversations about Rebecca. As I said in class, the second half of the book will repaint some scenes and perceptions from the first half. I hope you all have plenty of reading time this week so you don’t have to rush through the story.

Keep paying attention to all the ways Rebecca haunts the narrator and functions as a character who’s still alive. Also, take some time to consider these questions: What is a ghost? What does it mean to be haunted?

Homework

Finish reading Rebecca. Then, answer the following questions substantively in your Google Document by Wednesday night.

  1. Summarize and analyze the event with the white dress, Maxim’s reaction to it, and how it affects the narrator’s position in the household. Be sure to include Mrs. Danvers’ role in “helping” the narrator. 
  2. As the tension builds, Rebecca’s presence in the house begins to feel real and palpable, which is partly why this novel can be characterized as a ghost story. Pull from the text to show where this happens and explain its effect on the narrator. 
  3. Maxim’s confession at the end of Ch. 19 shifts the story – and the narrator’s position in it – dramatically. Explain what’s been learned. How does their subsequent conversation in Ch. 20 change both the tone of the story and the narrator’s position of power? 
  4. A major detail is revealed in Ch. 26 at the doctor’s office in London. How does this detail affect our understanding of what happened between Maxim and Rebecca on the day she died? 
  5. What is the significance of the final scene of the story? What are we, the readers, supposed to assume happens next? 
  6. Does the name you chose last week hold up? Is there a better name that suits her? 
  7. Did you enjoy the novel? Why or why not?

Monday, October 17

Since I’ll be absent this Thursday, October 20, I’ve recorded an audio lecture for you to listen to so we can get started with Prose. I’m going to define a good number of terms, so I’ve created a list here for you to jot down. Take notes as you feel led. 

  • Process of Reading Stories (Experience, Interpretation, Evaluation)
  • Genre and its functions
  • Plot structure
  • Conflict
  • Character (protagonist, antagonist, dynamic, static)
  • Characterization
  • Setting
  • Theme
  • Subject
  • Point of View
  • Convention (Archetypes and Tropes)
  • Stakes, Proportion, and Pacing

You’re starting Rebecca this week, which I’m sure some of you will find enjoyable to read. You’re reading the first 15 chapters, which is about 200 pages, so I highly recommend getting started a little earlier than usual. The novel was published in London in 1938, so while it’s written in a readable prose, I call this style of narrative “Fancy English.” It’s not written in Romantic or Victorian language, but it’s not super modern either. Take your time with it.

Take notice of several things as you read: 

  • How does Manderley function as a character, as if it’s alive?
  • How often is Rebecca mentioned or referenced, and by who? 
  • Where are the conflicts? Which type of conflict is the strongest so far? 

Homework

Listen to the audio lecture first. Then, read Ch. 1-15 in Rebecca. Create a new Google Doc and answer the following questions substantively by Wednesday, October 26. (Pay attention when I’m asking you multiple questions at once.)

  1. First, summarize how the narrator imagined her new life would unfold at Manderley (refer to Ch. 6, if needed). Then list three ways the narrator struggles to adjust to her new life. There are several big barriers, along with a few smaller ones. Give evidence from the book to support your answers. 
  2. Instead of being a backdrop, the setting of a story can be just as crucial as the main characters, as if it’s a character on its own. Describe Manderley. Give evidence from the book that shows how this manor house in Cornwall functions effectively as a lively symbol. (Take note of the personification in Ch. 7.)
  3. What is the significance of the narrator’s bedroom being situated in the east wing? 
  4. Describe Mrs. Danvers. Include the narrator’s initial impression of her. Yikes. 
  5. List three ways in which Rebecca is “haunting” the narrator. Be specific. 
  6. In Ch. 11, the narrator finally says the first wife’s name out loud: “I heard myself saying boldly, brazenly, ‘Rebecca must have been a wonderful person.’ I could not believe that I had said the name at last. I waited, wondering what would happen. I had said the name. I had said the word Rebecca aloud. It was a tremendous relief. It was as though I had taken a purge and rid myself of an intolerable pain. Rebecca. I had said it aloud.” Explain the context of this scene and why it is a significant turning point in the story. 
  7. Who is in charge at Manderley? Defend your answer. 
  8. The narrator’s previous employer (the American snob Mrs. Van Hopper) said these words right after the engagement in Monaco: “Naturally one wants you to be happy, and I grant you he’s a very attractive creature but—well, I’m sorry; and personally I think you are making a big mistake—one you will bitterly regret.”  In what ways have these words been true so far? 
  9. Our narrator has a name, but we aren’t privy to it. There are several clues we’re given early in the story, primarily from Maxim. First, he spells her name correctly (“an unusual thing”) on a note sent to her hotel room (20). Then, he says to her on their first time alone, “You have a very lovely and unusual name,” to which she replies, “My father was a lovely and unusual person” (24). Now that you’ve read half of the novel and have gauged her personality, give the new Mrs. de Winter a first name. Tell me why you chose it. (Here’s a website to get you started.) 

Don’t forget your biography paper is due no later than Thursday, October 27. You may share it with me in a Google Doc or print it and bring it to class. If you are uncertain about format and structure, you’re welcome to submit it earlier so I can read it as a rough draft and offer feedback.

Lastly, if you haven’t already, click here to vote on your favorite yearbook cover!


Thursday, October 6

Today we wrapped up our unit on poetry with a few more terms (dramatic monologue, alliteration, assonance, consonance, and Nonsense Literature). We also talked about why the Modern/Postmodern Era isn’t perfectly defined yet. Surely that will happen in your lifetime.

There is no homework over fall break, unless you decide to work on your biography paper. Remember that I won’t be in class on Thursday, October 20, but if you’re on campus during class time, you need to be in the Chapel. I’ll post information you need work-wise by Tuesday, October 18.

Thursday, September 29

Today we talked about our last time frame – the Victoria Era – which was a pendulum swing in the other direction from the Romantic hippies. The Victorian Era can be encapsulated by a mostly peaceful time with rapid progress and prudish attitudes.

We talked so much in the 9 a.m. hour that we didn’t finish talking about the literary elements of the Victorian writers, so we’ll catch up with that stuff next week and then I’ll list the things you’ll need in your notes for the end-of-semester test. We’ll also read some other poems in class that I intended to read today. We definitely MUST talk about Lewis Carroll and Nonsense Literature.

Homework

Read the following works by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Christina Rossetti (on one document) and the Brownings (on another document). If you haven’t read any poems out loud yet this semester, now’s the time to do it, particularly with Tennyson’s work. It is beautiful.

Answer the following questions substantively:

“No, Thank You, John” by Christina Rossetti

  • What kind of mood is the speaker in? Pull a few lines from the poem to support your claims.
  • Instead of a romance, what does the speaker offer John? 

“Crossing the Bar” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

  • This poem isn’t about setting out to sea. It’s a metaphor for something else. What is it? 
  • Who is the Pilot? 

“The Brook” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

  • Who is the speaker? 
  • What does the brook symbolize? Or, what do you think Tennyson is saying in this piece? 

“Tears, Idle Tears” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

  • Why is the speaker crying? 
  • Autumn is often used as a metaphor in poetry. Explain what you think it means here. 
  • Does this poem leave you with any particular feelings? If so, what? 

“The Cry of the Children” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

  • Elizabeth has a LOT to say about Victorian children in the labor force. Summarize her overall attitude on the subject matter. Pull some powerful lines to support your claims. 

“My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning

  • The Duke is talking to someone about the painting of his wife (upon which they are gazing). What is the attitude of the Duke towards his wife, from what you can gather in his monologue?
  • Give an example of how the Duke personifies the painting (giving human qualities to nonhuman things). 

Finally, please search Poetry Foundation or some other website and find a poem from any time period to read in class. We will discuss some literary elements of modern poetry next week, so it would be great if some of you brought in something that was published after 1901. It would be AMAZING if you all read the poetry you bring to class so you can give this old lady a break.


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.

Homework

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

“Revenge”

  • 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?)

“Mutability” 

  • 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.

Homework

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)

Homework

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.

Homework

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

Homework

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.

Homework

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? 

Introduction

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