ENGL 2111: English Literature from Chaucer to Milton

This course is a brief, selective survey of English literature from Chaucer to the late seventeenth century. The reading list is drawn from a list that includes Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, and Milton's Paradise Lost (selections) as well as some of the works of such Elizabethan and Jacobean poets as Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, and Jonson.


After successfully completing this course, you will be able to:

  • Read closely and understand Middle and Early Modern English, from Chaucer's rhyming couplets to Milton's blank verse.
  • Recognize and understand figurative language, such as allegory and metaphor, and literary techniques, like irony, rhyme, and allusion.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the style, structure, and content of the assigned literary texts, from Chaucer to Milton.
  • Identify the unique qualities of the authors studied, and compare and contrast them.
  • Situate the assigned literary texts in their historical contexts and recognize the impact of major events and transitions.
  • Develop a well-written argument about one or more literary texts or authors, and accurately cite literary and other sources.

Course outline

ENGL 2111 English Literature from Chaucer to Milton includes the following four units:

Unit 1 Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and English Literature in the Fourteenth Century

An introduction to Middle English literature through selections from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Students read Chaucer's "General Prologue," "Wife of Bath's Tale," and "Retraction," and explore aspects of his narrative techniques and colourful characterization. The historical context of fourteenth-century England is also considered, as is Chaucer's significance in the English literary tradition. Activities and commentaries guide students through the readings and prepare them for Assignment 1, an essay on a choice of topics dealing especially with the characters of The Canterbury Tales. See the assignment file for specific details.

Unit 2 Elizabethan Literature: The Verse Exchange, the Epic Romance, and the English Sonnet

An introduction to Elizabethan literature in which students read English verse exchanges, sonnets, and selections from the Faerie Queene, an allegorical romance. Authors to be studied include Thomas Wyatt, Queen Elizabeth I, Walter Ralegh, Edmund Spenser, Philip Sidney, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and Mary Wroth. Students will consider how literary language functioned in Elizabethan culture. Activities focus on the identifying the speakers in poems, reading allegory, identifying metaphors, and explicating sonnets. At the end of Unit 2 students complete Assignment 2, an essay on a choice of topics comparing poems and narrative features. See the assignment file for specific details.

Unit 3 William Shakespeare's The Tempest: Text, Criticism, Performance, and Appropriation

An introduction to Shakespeare's drama in which students read The Tempest and consider the incredibly rich creative and critical tradition it has generated. Students will study a piece of critical writing that introduces autobiographical and post-colonial readings of the play. A modern Canadian performance of The Tempest is provided on DVD for one activity, while others ask students to consider aspects of the play's plot, and read creative writing inspired by the play. To complete Assignment 3, students choose from a number of topics and write an essay on The Tempest that uses at least one additional source. See the assignment file for specific details.

Unit 4 Four English Poets of the Seventeenth Century: John Donne, Aemilia Lanyer, Katherine Philips, and John Milton

An introduction to English literature of the seventeenth-century. Students read metaphysical poems by John Donne, friendship poetry by Katherine Philips, a defense of women by Aemilia Lanyer, and selections of John Milton's Paradise Lost. Activities guide students through the metaphysical conceit, the seventeenth-century debate about women, and the complexities of the Christian epic and its heroes. Assignment 4 asks students to write an essay on a choice of topics requiring close reading, analytical thinking, and the careful development of a literary argument. See the assignment file for specific details.

Required text and materials

  1. A Short Guide to Writing about Literature. 2012. Sylvan Barnet and William Cain. 12th ed. Boston: Pearson. ISBN 978-0-205-11845-8/0-205-11845-3
  1. The Tempest by William Shakespeare. 2011. Stratford Shakespeare Festival Performance 2010, directed by Des McNuff and starring Christopher Plummer. Stratford Shakespeare Festival Production DVD. ISBN: 677939

Students will need to source their own copies of following two books:

  1. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Major Authors. 2013. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, et al. 9th ed. New York and London: W.W. Norton. 978-0-393-919646.
  1. The Tempest: William Shakespeare. 2003. Ed. Peter Hulme, and William H. Sherman. A Norton Critical Edition. New York and London: W.W. Norton. ISBN: 978-0-393-97819-3

Additional requirements

DVD player and computer with Internet are required for this course.


In order to successfully complete this course, you must obtain at least 50% on the final mandatory examination and 50% overall. It is strongly recommended that students complete all assignments in order to achieve the learning objectives of the course. The total mark will be determined on the following basis:

Assignment 1 15%
Assignment 2 15%
Assignment 3 15%
Assignment 4 15%
Final examination 40%
Total 100%

Students must pass the final exam to receive a passing grade in the course.

To receive credit for this course, you are expected to complete four assignments, one at the end of each course unit, which demonstrate your understanding of the course learning outcomes and materials.

Open Learning Faculty Member

An Open Learning Faculty Member is available to assist students. Primary communication is through Blackboard’s “Mail” tool or by phone. You will receive the necessary contact information when you start your course.

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