English 166

Special Topics: Games of Thrones, Medieval to Modern

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Session Course Areas
2 Summer 2018 Strub, Spencer
TuWTh 10-12 note new location: 240 Mulford C

Book List

Beowulf, trans. Heaney (FSG); Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. Armitage; The Norton Shakespeare Histories, 3rd edition (Norton); Martin, George R. R.: A Game of Thrones; de France, Marie: Lais, trans. Waters (Broadview)

Other Readings and Media

Note: Please buy these specific editions of Beowulf, Sir Gawain, and Lais. We have ordered The Norton Shakespeare Histories, 3rd edition (ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al), ISBN: 978-0-393-93859-3. If you already own a complete Shakespeare (e.g., The Riverside, The Pelican, other and/or older editions of The Norton Shakespeare), you are welcome to use it for this course. Good single-play editions—Signet, Folger, Arden, Oxford World Classics, Pelican—also work.


This course will show how Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire draw on a long literary-historical legacy, emphasizing the preoccupations that have made their way from medieval and Renaissance writers into modernity: namely, issues of gender, "otherness," kingship and tyranny, and political division and civil war. Throughout the course, we will ask why writers from Shakespeare to George R. R. Martin invent fantasies about the past to tell stories about the present.

We begin by exploring some themes and narrative topoi that, while essential to modern fantasy, actually emerge from medieval imaginative writing. The issues of honor, love, leadership, power, and violence at the center of A Song of Ice and Fire are anticipated by epics and romances written centuries earlier. (So are the dragons.) We then turn to Shakespeare's "Henriad," four plays which—like Game of Thrones—tell the story for their present by reimagining the medieval past. In Shakespeare, we will witness drunken revelry, bloody battles, and the evolution of a prince into a king. We will also see how political upheaval upends tradition and accepted values—a challenge that our own moment continues to confront.

We finish with the Game of Thrones phenomenon itself. We'll compare the first novel with the early episodes of the TV series, and consider the conversation and critiques that the show in particular has elicited. In addition to two literary-critical essays, you will have an opportunity to try your hand at writing your own "take" on Game of Thrones.

This course satisfies the pre-1800 requirement for UC Berkeley English majors.

This course will be taught in Session C, from June 19 to August 9.

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