Instructional Objectives

-- two sample courses, one upper level writing intensive, and the other introductory level writing intensive

Literary Criticism  (ENGL 401), revised 11.viii.19

Why study literary criticism? If you think of literature as an artistic or realistic depiction of reality (Aestheticism and Realism, respectively), then literary criticism (engaging responsibly with “texts”) and literary theory (which is a bit more abstract) is the study of how we interpret literary representations of reality (mimesis). Whether we're talking about fiction or poetry, drama or performance art, literary criticism is the study of the representation of different worlds and of the different stories that are told about experience. The purpose and stakes of literary criticism have broadened extensively over the last century with the additions of feminism, Marxism and cultural materialism, psychoanalysis, queer and gender studies, postcolonialism and transnationalism, and the more abstract deconstruction, poststructuralism, and postmodernism. While the purpose of literary criticism once was confined principally to the study of textual transmission (how a work came to be in the state we have before us), of authorial intent (and this includes holy scripture), of historicism (the interpretation of history through literature), and of style (including 20th century movements such as New Criticism, Formalism, and Structuralism), nowadays it embraces all manner of social, economic, ecological, cultural, and intersectional interpretations of literature--and the application of that analysis also proves to be very useful for the study of life itself.

This course is designed to enable students to find ways of demonstrating the extent to which they are informed reflectively about all of the approaches mentioned above, and to exhibit through assignments a serious and sustained use of representative samplings of those approaches so as to offer incisively critical interpretations of select literary works, to do so responsibly, in standard English prose, and in accordance with the Style Sheet and assignment guidelines distributed the first day of class. Moreover, each student independently will focus on one particular contemporary modality of critical analysis (sign up sheet posted Gailor 135) so as to be able to design and execute a lesson plan for conveying the salient points to the class (not to exceed twenty minutes, usually ten minutes of descriptive analysis and then ten minutes of critical application and group discussion). To complete this particular exercise students will begin with a selection assigned from the anthology and then “ring out” to situate its place in the larger work from which it has been excerpted, and then, furthermore, to present a critically informed report on its place within the sweep of literary criticism in the Western cultural tradition. A write up of this independent presentation, inclusive of additional critical reflection on the relative success (or failure) of one’s project overall, will complete this assignment.

 Above all, through the work handed in as listed on the syllabus, students are expected to be able to make a clear case for the salutary uses—as well as potential limitations or inadequacies—of the critical approaches covered by the assigned readings. Students will draw on works of literature with which they already are familiar to perform the critical operations expected in this course. The teacher will suggest some short texts that might work toward this end if the student does not feel sufficiently well-read yet to identify works that lend themselves to the critical approach under investigation.


Introduction to literature and composition (ENGL 101)

Students enrolled in my section of ENGL 101 (Easter Term 2020) are in for an adventure in learning. You will encounter four plays by one of the most effective (and affective) writers of the English language, William Shakespeare; a collection of poetry on travel and adventure (Songs for the Open Road), and a work of 20th century non-fiction, Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. The instructional objectives given below clarify how these texts will help you realize your key learning goals for this class.


--to communicate effectively in writing
--to read critically and interpret literary works in English
--to speak intelligently and clearly
--to work effectively toward a corporate goal
--to discern reliable from unreliable information
--to design and apply mnemonic devices

In the spirit of chiasmus, we will consider each goal in turn from the bottom-up:

--to design and apply mnemonic devices. The first several classes will expose students to a variety of mnemonic devices in which they will be given a "hands-on" opportunity to master "The Caper Star" through a homework assignment on a single poem and then as a group exercise on three poems. Midway through the term students will learn to use MEMORY GRIDS to generate and forge links between and among between five and twelve works of literature.

--to discern reliable from unreliable information. Class lectures will include criteria for sifting through internet sources responsibly, how to access books and journal articles from DuPont Library efficiently, and how to decide which of your peer's (and teacher's) comments are worthy of finding a place in your notebook and essays. Part of the grade on written work includes an assessment of the extent to which reliable secondary sources are cited and used. This having been covered, it is necessary only to say the following about plagiarism: any paper suspected of plagiarism will be sent to the Honor Council and, pending an official decision, will get an "F."

--to work effectively toward a corporate goal. Instructor-facilitated caper groups will train students to learn how to work courteously and diligently with people of different backgrounds who have different strengths and weaknesses from you. Group assignments may also be required outside of class. Students will be assessed both on the outcome of the exercise and also on the signs of have engendered a genial and sufficiently rigorous "group dynamic."

--to speak intelligently and clearly. Each student is responsible for preparing and delivering a ten-minute oration grounded in a passage which the student will select and memorize (12-18 lines) from assigned section of a play by Shakespeare as listed on the syllabus. Recourse to the Caper Star obviates the need for written notes. The memorized passage will be recited in the context of your presenting a cogent and well-reasoned interpretation of the passage with respect to the larger issues in the play. The aim is to help your peers become better, more critical, more attentive, interpreters of the passage and of the play as a whole so that you will be able to lead a five-minute follow-up discussion about the seminal issues you have brought to the class's attention. You are also expected to be an expert on the whole assignment, capable of fielding any questions posed to you by your peers or teacher. This will help develop your talents as an extemporaneous speaker. Additionally, students will be assessed on their participation in class both as decorous speakers and active listeners.

--to read critically and interpret literary works in English. To gauge your comprehension of the assigned works of literature students will be assigned a series of papers that provide experience with different types of writing and require different ways of thinking about the texts:

The Triangulation Paper builds on work carried out individually and in caper groups the first weeks of class; in effect, the class sessions are preparing students to compare and contrast three of the poems in the anthology while taking into account the relationship of form to content (students will receive a handout on scansion and meter and at least two classes will be devoted to close reading).

The Reflection Paper builds on your in-class presentation and is intended as a write-up and critique of your progress. To give you time to reflect on your presentation and any points that came out of the group discussion, it will be due the following class period. This paper (3-5 pages, no more than 1,500 words) should reflect on what you judge was accomplished in your presentation and any further speculation you might have about how the passage opens the way to larger issues raised by the play (and the play, after all, is a reflection of how people live in the world). The paper will include (1) your lines, (2) a brief analysis of those lines, and (3) some reflection on what those lines have come to mean to you by virtue of having undertaken this assignment. You are not necessarily trying to prove anything in this paper (unless it is a crux in the play), but to reflect purposefully on your learning — including anything you have subsequently come to think as result of the class discussion following your presentation. Be careful not to fall into the trap of merely summing up the action of the scene; rather, relate details of the play as a way to further your analysis of the passage and what this in turn reveals about the underlying spirit of the play.

The Expository Paper requires that each student devise and develop an original thesis about something in the play (Pericles) that demands your attention and that is worthy of arguing over in an intelligent and cogent way. Be sure to indicate what it is about the thesis that matters to you. Your paper will need to evince a debatable thesis of some kind and include corroborating evidence taken from within the text (cited appropriately).

The mid-term exam will include a section that provides students with an opportunity to create a MEMORY GRID of relevant information about the works of literature encountered in the class. The last section asks you to develop and neatly hand-write a case arguing for the primacy of a specific theme as being exemplary of the ethos of a specific work of literature. This will also help students prepare for the Impromptu paper.

The Impromptu Theme Paper is an in-class writing exercise where you are given a topic and specific passage from one of the plays so that, by drawing on all of the skills developed this term, you can demonstrate your proficiency at reading and critically interpreting a work of English literature. In addition to being graded by your teacher, this essay (written in a Blue Book) will be assessed by a t least one other member of the English Department and the results will be passed on to the College.

Meeting of the Minds Extravaganza: Uniting all of the instructional objectives mentioned above, in lieu of a final exam students will complete a Magnum Opus Quadration Caper that brings together all four plays assigned this term. Students will be broken into groups and have time both inside and outside of class to compose and perform a COLLOQUY in which a student impersonating Viktor Frankl (an interpretation that must be justified from the assigned text and any secondary research you undertake) conducts a group interview (by way of putting into practice his groundbreaking psychoanalytic technique of logo-therapy) with at least one character from each play (to avoid overlap of characters group to group, the roles will be drawn from a hat in advance of the planning and performance). Scripts will be allowed though they must not detract from the flow of the 15-minute spectacle to be staged in Gailor 11.

--to communicate effectively in writing. This is assessed with respect to the grades on work handed in using the following criteria:

Your grade on a paper represents my professional judgment whether and the extent to which your original work-product fulfills the terms of the assignment (including handing it in on time). On the syllabus you will notice that each paper is designed to address a specific theme, approach, or topic. If your thesis is not sufficiently specific, or your theme is not cogently developed, then it is unlikely you can accomplish what you set out to achieve, no matter how lofty your intent.

At the very least, a paper that (1) satisfies the terms of the assignment, (2) evinces a thesis (or argues for the primacy of a theme — depending on the assignment) by presenting and analyzing a series of related points, and (3) demonstrates your ability to organize your thoughts in standard written English is assured at least a "C." This is the average of what is expected.

Papers will be graded higher if they do all of this and also are free of grammatical errors and stylistic infelicities. Mechanical errors detract from the presentation of your ideas, inhibiting the flow from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph. Seek, therefore, to communicate your ideas clearly, to substantiate your claims cogently, and to qualify your assumptions coherently. Sweeping claims and those that cannot really be substantiated (e.g.: "Shakespeare was the greatest playwright ever to live"), no matter how innocently intended, derail otherwise good arguments and will detract from your score.

Papers that satisfy the requirements of an average ("C") paper, and also demonstrate subtly of thought and show signs of originality, qualify for a grade in the "B" range.

An outstanding paper incorporates all of the things just mentioned, and does so with verve. Moreover, papers in the "A" range tend to illuminate the topic in unexpected, though always decorous, ways. An outstanding paper not only will evince an original thesis, but also it will do so with style and perspicacity. With this in mind, please note that risks taken in the spirit of intellectual inquiry, even if they fall short of the intended objective, tend to be judged favorably. Also, a paper in which the writer seeks to experiment purposefully and appropriately with "voice" or "point of view," even if the effort does not achieve its intended goal, may still receive a high grade.

As the term progresses and you get more practice writing and become more attuned to the standards valued by your teacher, it is assumed that your papers should improve--and your grade will reflect this. In my written comments I will point out the strengths so you can develop them in future papers and any weaknesses so you can attend to these accordingly. In compliance with University regulations and consistent with the Student Handbook, grades range from A+ (4.33) to F (0), although the lowest grade I would assign to work handed in on time is D- (0.67), reserving F for papers not handed in on time, which is tantamount to not handing it in at all. Also, I have been known to assign grades at nearly every interval in between; for example, between B (3.00) and B- (2.67) there is the possibility of receiving B/B- (2.83) even as there is a B//B/B- (2.94).

I am always available during office hours to talk with you about your written work. I prefer to discuss your ideas before you begin writing (which will take prior planning on your part) and even will help you outline papers. As a rule, though, I will not read working-drafts of entire papers. For this, make an appointment with a Writing Tutor. In some cases, students may be invited to revise and resubmit written work — usually a paper that just misses its intended mark. The grade of this revised paper will be averaged in with the first version. I look forward to reading, hearing, and watching — as well as assessing and grading — your work this term as I believe that, just as reading great literature can help make you think about how you might go about becoming a better, more self-aware person, I am convinced that communicating with verve will help make you a more interesting and circumspect person.