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E 201: Early British Literature & Culture




This syllabus is subject to change. The latest version on this website is the binding syllabus.

Office: Bartlett 259
Office Hours: By appointment.
545-6598 | sharris at


Description: English 201 introduces you to the literature of the Middle Ages and Early Modern England. The course is intended to give you a solid grounding in early British literature. You will read texts useful for undergraduate and graduate study or for secondary school teaching in Massachusetts. We will discuss literary genre, form, and style. Readings include Old English lyrics, Beowulf, Chaucer, Milton, Sidney, Spenser, Donne, Herbert, Philips, and Marvell.

Objectives: This course promises 1) an overview of English literature from the Anglo-Saxon period to the Glorious Revolution; 2) a review of basic literary vocabulary; and 3) exposure to several methods of interpretation including the philological method and allegorical reading.

We meet TTh 10:00 – 11:15 in Bartlett 201
(Campus Map.)

Please read this trigger warning about the course.


The first few weeks will be spent on reading practices. You will need to buy a book for that: Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book (Touchstone, 1972), ISBN 0671212095. Available at Amherst Books on Main Street, Amherst.

All other books will be available free online. HERE is the main site for texts.

All of the texts that we will read are available in hundreds of different editions in the library and on-line. If you are assiduous, you can find them all for free or follow the links provided.


You will be tested on your knowledge of primary texts, your familiarity with literary terminology, and your ability to apply appropriate critical tools. This entails keeping careful notes on plot, characters, and themes of each reading; asking questions when you don't understand; and taking advantage of the insanely vast number of resources available to you.

You are expected to complete your readings prior to each class--the readings average about 20 pages per class. You should have no more than 3 hours of homework per week. If you're not going to do the reading, then this class will be a waste of your time, and your success seriously imperiled.


Attendance is required. My complete attendance policy is here.

Late Assignments are not accepted. Make provisions beforehand and speak with me if you anticipate obstacles to punctuality. I will accept officially excused absences.

Electronic devices are unwelcome, but may be used for reference. Please don't browse the internet, use Facebook etc., play games, or email during class as it disrupts other students. If you are incapable of staying offline, then please sit in the back row.

Conferences. Meet with me at least once during the semester, if only to verify that the grades that you have correspond to the ones in my gradebook.

Office Hours. I don't keep open office hours. But, I am usually to be found in my office TTh. (Please let me know beforehand if you want to meet—I may be busy when you pop by, or teaching, or at a meeting.) Otherwise, please make an appointment to meet with me at a time convenient to you and I will certainly try to oblige.


There are two papers, 1500 words each. Bring the first paper to the midterm exam and hand it in with your completed exam (25% total); bring the second paper to the final exam and hand it in with the final exam (25% total). Also, four quizzes (5% each), and 10 worksheets (2% each). Here is Paper 1 (due 4 March) and Paper 2 (due 6 May). Here is a worksheet. Participation counts for 3%, attendance for 7%.

Grading Scale: A (92–100); A- (90, 91); B+ (87–89); B (82–86); B- (80, 81); C+ (77–79); C (72–76); C- (70, 71); D+ (67–69); D (62–66); D- (60, 61); F (0–59).

  • No electronic submissions.
  • ALL MISSED ASSIGNMENTS GET AN "F." If you foresee being absent, please let me know well beforehand. University policies will be enforced.
  • PLAGIARISM GETS AN "F." This may be for the paper or for the course, at my discretion. Please check your student handbook and university guidelines for more on plagiarism. See below, note 4.
  • ALL PAPERS MUST BE TYPED OR WORD-PROCESSED. Not doing so reduces your grade by one letter-value (e.g., "C" down to "D").

NOTE 1: Please make and keep a copy of all your assignments. In case any difficulties arise with respect to misplaced assignments or with respect to discrepancies between your records and my own, I will accept the evidence of your computer system's dating function. For your own peace of mind, I suggest that you lock any document on the day it is due. That will prevent your system from associating your document with a later date.

NOTE 2: The schedule of this course is subject to change. It is not to be construed as a substitute for your attendance or as a catalogue of all the information for which you are responsible. All changes will be announced beforehand. This syllabus and the accompanying schedule constitute a binding contract between a student and professor. If you do not agree with any of the provisions set herein and as of this moment, then you are free to drop this class within the time allotted by the University.

NOTE 3: All material pertaining to this course is copyrighted material and is subject to international and US laws of copyright. No recording devices.

NOTE 4: Since the integrity of the academic enterprise of any institution of higher education requires honesty in scholarship and research, academic honesty is required of all students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Academic dishonesty is prohibited in all programs of the University. Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to: cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and facilitating dishonesty. Appropriate sanctions may be imposed on any student who has committed an act of academic dishonesty. Instructors should take reasonable steps to address academic misconduct. Any person who has reason to believe that a student has committed academic dishonesty should bring such information to the attention of the appropriate course instructor as soon as possible. Instances of academic dishonesty not related to a specific course should be brought to the attention of the appropriate department Head or Chair. The procedures outlined below are intended to provide an efficient and orderly process by which action may be taken if it appears that academic dishonesty has occurred and by which students may appeal such actions.

Since students are expected to be familiar with this policy and the commonly accepted standards of academic integrity, ignorance of such standards is not normally sufficient evidence of lack of intent. For more information about what constitutes academic dishonesty, please see the Dean of Students’ website at:

NOTE 5: Disability Statement. [Text from CTFD] The University of Massachusetts Amherst is committed to making reasonable, effective and appropriate accommodations to meet the needs of students with disabilities and help create a barrier-free campus. If you are in need of accommodation for a documented disability, register with Disability Services to have an accommodation letter sent to your faculty. It is your responsibility to initiate these services and to communicate with faculty ahead of time to manage accommodations in a timely manner. For more information, consult the Disability Services website at



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Academic Schedule